In the rural community where I grew up, Lent was a time of sacrifice. But Lenten fish fries were extravagances of paper-plated golden goodness. Catholic and non-Catholic, the entire town packed into the church basement, a community more alike than different. And by alike, I mean, unified in our love of togetherness, rectangle fish, and coleslaw. My nostalgia made me wonder, could I re-create the joy of good friends and simple food, but with a lot less oil?
Fish fries appeal to young and old, so I needed the Healthy Cooking version to be child-friendly. My kiddos will eat anything on a bun, so fish burgers were my first thought. And by making them slider-sized, the portions are infinitely adaptable. Wee ones get a single slider; teens get 57.
What kind of fish? That is entirely up to you. Cod is inexpensive, full of heart-happy omega-3 fatty acids, and very mild tasting. You’ll need to spice it up with a few pinches of Old Bay Seasoning, but on the plus side, children (and adults with the palates of children) won’t find it too “fishy.” If you prefer a little more flavor, spend a few extra dollars for haddock or tilapia. These fish all flake nicely in the food processor, which is where the bulk of the prep work happens.
First, a word about Old Bay. Check the expiration date on the tin in your spice drawer. Ground spices don’t spoil, but they do lose their potency after a year. Mine expired an embarrassing four years ago, and the contents were as aromatic as sawdust. If you’re in the same boat, buy a new can, or create a homemade version with pinches of celery salt, red pepper and paprika.
To make the sliders, pulse your fish, breadcrumbs and seasonings in a food processor. I use three egg whites as a binder; if cholesterol isn’t your concern, substitute one large egg for two of the whites. Shape the mixture into patties, and let them chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour, which helps the sliders hold their shape while they cook. I like to make the patties before work so that dinner is a quick eight-minute saute when I get home. Does the thought of handling fish in the morning make you cringe? Whip them together the night before. If you wrap the tray tightly in plastic, your refrigerator will not smell like the ocean.
Instead of the soggy, pale green coleslaw of my youth, I top these sliders with a crunchy, vibrant, cilantro-lime cabbage mix. It’s tangy and fat-free, and, like the rest of the recipe, comes together in seconds. But if that’s a few seconds too many, skip the slaw and try spicy Sriracha, fresh avocado slices, or even a dollop of cocktail sauce. Add a salad, invite your favorite neighbors, and enjoy an easy, festive meal after a long week. Amen.
This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled; work in batches when processing and cooking.
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