I am always looking for new ways to make food and the dinner hour fun for my kids. I also really desire for them to eat healthy and appreciate foods that are good for them. In my quest to continue offering fun and healthy foods, I was looking to replicate the chicken nuggets my kids love, but with some healthier fare. With a bag of frozen tilapia in the freezer, I thought I would try to create a fun tilapia nugget that was baked, but had the taste and crunch of their fried nuggets.
With that in mind, let me introduce you to my new favorite pantry addition to creating great fried flavor without the grease and frying. Panko is a Japanese bread crumb that is light in texture and offers a coarse crumb texture to your breading. Panko is made from wheat bread, but has a surprisingly golden color that looks just like that golden color and texture you love from your fried dishes.
While it may sound a little more exotic than our good old breadcrumbs, these are actually available at our local Walmart. They have these in two spots in the store and you can grab them in the Asian food section or the baking aisle. I found the ones in the baking aisle were about twenty cents cheaper so I grabbed them over there. A box of these was $1.88 so they are very inexpensive, but can add a lot of crunch to your dishes that you will soon become addicted to.
The Panko is mixed with Old Bay seasoning for a kick of spice with a little heat in it. You can find the Old Bay seasoning over in the baking spices aisle or by the seafood section of your supermarket. It has a variety of spices in the blend with everything from mustard to cinnamon to ginger. Basically, it is a fun blend of everything in your spice cabinet that adds a ton of flavor to all of your seafood dishes.
Tilapia happens to be my most favorite fish and we usually eat it about once a week in our house. It is a very mild white fish that even fish haters can appreciate because it doesn’t have a strong fishy taste to it. It also happens to be a great bargain for families and is available at every supermarket. I buy the larger value size bags and can get two meals with leftovers out of those.
When creating your nuggets, just cut down the center line and then chunk them into nugget-like shapes. This can totally be rustic, it adds to the homemade deliciousness, in my opinion!
What did our family think about these? Well, after they picked their mouths off of the floor that mom could whip up fish nuggets, they absolutely loved them! The dippers in our family were very happy because I served these with a little fun dipping sauce and the non-dippers were pleased that these were flavorful even when they were eaten alone.
The accompaniments to the nuggets was my lemon rice pilaf and steamed edamame (or “little mommies” as my daughter likes to call these). I put both of these into my rice cooker and enjoyed having dinner ready in under thirty minutes. A dinner that is filled with happy smacks, empty plates, and questions about when I can make it again for them is a dinner success story with a happy ending!
Panko Crusted Tilapia Nuggets With Fancy Dipping Sauce (Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
Coarse salt and pepper
2 cups panko (see notes above about where to locate that ingredient)
1 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 lbs tilapia fillets, cut into wide strips (see note, above)
1/2 cup light mayonnaise
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, plus lemon wedges for serving
2 teaspoons prepared white horseradish (we omitted and just added 1/4 teaspoon of Old Bay to the seasoning for a little kick)
To make fish nuggets, cut tilapia fillets in half and then chunk into nugget size pieces. Preheat oven to 475, with racks in top and bottom third. Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil; set aside. Place egg in a wide shallow bowl; season with salt and pepper. In another bowl, combine panko, Old Bay, and oil. Dip tilapia into egg, shaking off excess, then into panko mixture, pressing to adhere. Place on prepared baking sheets. Bake until lightly browned, 12 to 15 minutes, rotating sheets from top to bottom halfway through.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together mayonnaise, parsley, mustard, lemon juice, and horseradish; season with salt and pepper. Serve fish sticks with sauce and lemon wedges on the side.