Willy Wonka and the Gorton’s Fisherman walk into a bar…
Inspired by the Village Voice’s “14 Foods That Haven’t Been Invented,” J. Frankfurter recently posted on his experimental veal liver creme brulee recipe and challenged me to come up with my own version of chocolate-covered fish sticks.
I’ve been racking my brain for a palatable solution to this offbeat challenge for awhile now. While it is uncommon to see fish paired with chocolate, I do recall seeing “cocoa-dusted” fish and/or shellfish from recipes and fancy menus past. But a mere cocoa dusting would be too easy and not within the spirit of the challenge. I needed a real sauce.
Naturally,a chocolate mole came to mind, but mole tends to pair better with pork or chicken. And again, like cocoa dusting, mole seemed like cheating because it basically already exists — I would just be dipping fish sticks into it.
As I was reading the Times Sunday Magazine a few weekends ago, a ketchup recipe just happened to be featured. Aside from tartar sauce, we all know that ketchup — that beloved American condiment — is a popular dipping sauce for fish sticks.
I decided to add my own twist to this ketchup recipe by adding in cocoa powder but limiting the amount of sugar called for in the recipe. The sweetness was my main concern with fish involved. Borrowing a bit from Jacques Torres and other fancy infused chocolate experts, I decided a little heat would also help mask the odd clash that would likely ensue between fish and chocolate. Here are the results:
- 1 large egg
- 2 cups panko
- 2 tablespoons Old Bay Seasoning
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pound tilapia fillets
- Preheat oven to 475 degrees F. Line baking sheet with non-stick aluminum foil.
- Cut tilapia fillets into fish sticks, roughly of same size to ensure even cooking.
- In a first bowl, beat egg. In second bowl, combine panko, olive oil and Old Bay.
- Dip each fish stick into egg batter, shaking off excess. Then dip into panko mixture, pressing to ensure mixture sticks.
- Place on baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes or until panko is lightly brown and fish is cooked through.
- 24 oz. can of crushed tomato
- 1 cup chopped yellow onion
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 6 peppercorns
- 6 all spice berries
- 6 cloves
- 3 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- Place all ingredients but sugar in saucepan. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 1.5 hours, stirring occasionally, until mixture has the consistency of ketchup.
- Let cool 5 minutes. Blend mixture until smooth. Mixture will thicken as it cools but can be further reduced in sauce pan.
The fish sticks by themselves were fantastic. I’m likely to make them again and pair with a homemade tartar sauce or aioli. Baking the panko made the fish sticks crispy without being too greasy. And anything with Old Bay is delicious in my book.
The cocoa-infused ketchup was interesting. By itself, the ketchup was a bit too acidic; next time (if there is a next time), I’ll cut down on the amount of cider vinegar used. The sugar wasn’t much to fret over after all. Balanced with the acid and heat, it was not too overwhelming. The cocoa definitely affected the color and taste but not too much. There were still underlying tones of cocoa that were quite distinguishable.
Paired together, the fish sticks and ketchup weren’t too bad. The saltiness of the fish sticks a la Old Bay cut through the acidity of the ketchup. Conversely, the sweetness of the ketchup helped balance out the saltiness of the fish sticks. I probably won’t be making the cocoa-infused ketchup again and will likely use the large quantity of leftover ketchup I have as part of BBQ sauce. It was fun to try, but there’s a reason you don’t find cocoa and fish paired too often together.