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My wife tells me that until she and I started dating, she hated fish. Like a lot of people, I suppose, she grew up eating fish sticks, those disgusting breaded patties that taste like nothing so much as old socks breaded with damp week-old breadcrumbs. It's true that back in the 70's good, fresh fish was harder to find than it is today, and while it's not difficult to cook fish properly, it can be pretty intimidating if you're not used to it. I suppose that's why my local Winn-Dixie has shelves and shelves of frozen fish sticks, many of which don't meet our standards because they're excessively high in sodium or contain monosodium glutamate.
Dr. Praeger's Purely Sensible Foods impressed us with their veggie burgers last year, so when their fish sticks and "fishies" caught my eye the other day, I thought, "Why not?"
While they do make gluten-free versions of their fish sticks and "fishies" (fish-shaped bits of breaded fish), today we tested the non-gluten-free (glutinous?) versions with our tasting panel.
Neither of these products offer a microwave option for cooking, and that's a good thing. Crisping foods just doesn't work well in a microwave (just look at our reviews of microwaved pizzas), and who would want to eat non-crispy fish sticks?
Today we started with what the panel called "the grownup version:" Dr. Praeger's Lightly Breaded Fish Sticks. These are actual slices of Alaskan pollock that are about 3 1/2 inches long, about 3/4 of an inch wide, and breaded with panko crumbs and seasonings (according to the package).
Although a serving totals 170 calories, 180 milligrams of sodium, and just 1 gram of fiber, that's only 3 little sticks, which on the plate appears rather skimpy. ("Jeez, is that it?" asked the panel. "Three little sticks?") The preferred cooking method is baking, so that's what we did, although there are pan-frying instructions on the package. Eleven minutes at 450°F, turn over, another 8 minutes, and the sticks are done, with a golden color and an audible crunch. The panel described these as having a "gentle" fish flavor, "not fishy, but you can taste fish" (I share that for what it's worth). The breading "might be a bit thick," was the verdict, but the sticks are "definitely finger food - highly dippable."
While the sticks are true pieces of sliced fish, I was not especially encouraged to see that the "fishies" are billed as "made with minced fish." Each little fish (shaped just like the well-known fish-shaped crackers) are nearly 2 inches long before baking and would indeed fit perfectly into small hands. (Indeed, one of our panelists volunteered to take the uncooked leftovers home to her toddler.) Oddly enough, the minced fish seems to work even better in terms of flavor and texture than the slices of fish, with a "fresh, clean" fish flavor and a "mushy inside, crunchy outside" texture that all of the panelists, parents and non-parents alike, enjoyed.
Six of these little fellows are a serving, with 200 calories, 350 milligrams of sodium, and less than 1 gram of fiber, which probably reflects the higher ratio of breading to fish filling. While we haven't exactly tested these with children - and please comment with your kids' reviews if you try them - the parents in our panel felt that 1) their kids might like them, and 2) if their kids didn't like them, they wouldn't go to waste.
For those parents who would like to get their children enjoying fish early on, these seem a good option. If you're an adult and hate fish as my wife used to, but still would like to eat fish, these also might be an option, although I'd recommend being bold and trying cooking fresh fish.
Reviewed: January 20, 2017