Years ago, I bought a box of frozen fish sticks in the hope they would become a seafood gateway for my small child. Her lips would lock whenever fish that wasn't smoked salmon on a bagel came near.
It worked as planned. After she polished off the box, I was able to keep fish on the menu if I served it crumbed and fried.
This was all well and good until my husband and I decided we wanted crunchy, crumby fish, too, preferably accompanied by its terrestrial soul mate, a golden tangle of french fries (or as they're called in Britain, where they've mastered the art, chips).
But since frying fish and chips for a family dinner on a weeknight wasn't likely to happen regularly, baking seemed to be the answer.
The hard part was getting my baked fish and chips to come even close to the audibly crunchy delectability of the fried stuff. There is a reason that fried fish and chips is a classic. It's tough to improve upon.
The main problem I had was with crispness. Without making contact with boiling oil, it was hard to get the fish to crisp on the outside but stay juicy within. And the crumbs remained white instead of turning golden, which made the whole thing seem like the eerie ghost of a meal.
Even the potatoes had issues. If I baked them long enough to crisp their surfaces, they turned leathery on the inside.
Fixing the potatoes turned out to be easy; I just cranked up the heat and cut the potatoes into long, thin strips. Then instead of starting them out in a cold pan, I preheat the pan the way I do when I want to get a nice, brown crust on a steak while keeping the center bloody rare. That did it. The potatoes crisped on the outside and were tender within.
The secret to the fish was to toast the bread crumbs before using them to coat the fish. This boosts their color and their crunch. And while I was toasting them, I added thyme leaves and garlic to the pan to add some needed flavor. A spoonful of sharp mustard mixed in with the egg for the coating helped that cause, too.
As is fashionable with the grade-school set, my daughter likes her fish and chips with ketchup. My husband and I prefer tartar sauce spiked with horseradish. But no matter how we dip, it's a family meal we can all get behind.