Recipe: Baked Fish Fillet Sandwiches

Recipe: Baked Fish Fillet Sandwiches

(Image credit: Maria Siriano)

Getting breaded fish nice and crispy usually involves deep-frying or resorting to buying frozen breaded fish that was probably deep-fried in the first place. But what if there was an easy way to get a golden-brown coating onto homemade baked fish? Here's a little trick that's a game-changer if you want the ultimate crunchy coating.

Fish fillets coated with toasted panko before baking
(Image credit: Maria Siriano)

Japanese panko breadcrumbs are often touted as the secret ingredient to making crispy breaded foods. While I heartily agree, I've found that just coating something in panko doesn't necessarily mean it will crisp up well or even turn an appetizing golden-brown — especially for foods that cook quickly in the oven.

But I've found that doing one extra little step suddenly turns panko into crispy, golden crumbs: toasting it on the stovetop first. Toasting panko in just a little bit of butter or oil for just a few minutes on the stove takes the paleness away and starts the crisping process. Once the panko is toasted, I use it to coat chicken (or in this case, fish) before baking in the oven.

Pre-toasting the panko means that it turns an even darker shade of brown in the oven, almost to the point that it looks like the food's been deep-fried. Yes, it's a few more minutes of effort, but one that can be done even up to a week in advance if stored at room temperature, or probably up to a few months if stored in the freezer.

For these fish sandwiches, I brush the fish with mayonnaise first to keep it moist and to give the panko something to cling onto, and I also use mayonnaise, dill relish, and some capers to make a quick tartar sauce. Pile the baked crispy fish onto a soft bun; load it up with tartar sauce, lettuce, and some tomatoes if it's the right season; and you've got a sandwich that will rival anything you can get in a fast food drive-through.

Baked Crispy Fish Sandwiches

Serves 4

1 tablespoon olive oil or butter
1 1/4 cups panko breadcrumbs
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
1/2 plus 1/3 cup mayonnaise, divided
1 tablespoon sweet pickle relish
1 1/2 tablespoons (4 1/2 teaspoons) capers, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 pound cod or tilapia fillets
Freshly ground black pepper
4 hamburger or potato buns, split
4 iceberg or romaine lettuce leaves
2 medium tomatoes, sliced into rounds (optional)

Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Toast the panko while the oven is heating.

Heat the oil or butter in a large frying pan over medium heat until shimmering or melted. Add the panko and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and toast, stirring frequently, until evenly light golden-brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a pie dish or large shallow plate and let cool completely. (This can be done up to 2 days ahead and stored at room temperature in an airtight container.)

Mix 1/2 cup of the mayonnaise, relish, capers, and mustard together in a small bowl to make the tartar sauce; set aside.

Cut the fish fillets as needed into pieces that will fit in the buns. Season the fish with salt and pepper. Brush both sides of the pieces with the remaining 1/3 cup of mayonnaise, then dredge in the toasted panko to completely coat, using your hands to press the crumbs into the fish as needed. Place on the baking sheet.

Bake until the fish is golden-brown and flaky, 12 to 14 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. Remove the pan from the oven. Lightly toast the rolls cut-side up directly on the oven rack, about 3 minutes.

Spread the tartar sauce on the cut sides of both the tops and bottoms of the rolls. Divide the lettuce over the bottom halves of the rolls, then top with the fish. Divide the tomatoes over the fish, if using, then close each sandwich with the top halves of the rolls. Cut each sandwich in half and serve.

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