Many air fryer fish stick recipes are basically frozen fish sticks popped in the air fryer. Of course, that works, but I think we can do better.
This version starts with fresh cod, lightly breaded with panko breadcrumbs and air-fried until they are browned and so crunchy. The fish stays juicy and tender, and air frying them is fast and easier to clean up than a traditional deep fry.
I’ve air-fried a number of things over the years, but this fish stick recipe is one of the most successful air fryer recipes I’ve made. Even my kids couldn’t get enough of them. These are perfect for those busy school nights—bread them ahead of time and when it’s time for dinner, pop them into the air fryer.
The Air Fryer is Perfect for Fish Sticks
The air fryer works really well with similar-sized fish sticks that you can spread out easily in the air fryer basket. Fish cooks relatively quickly, which helps since you will probably need to air fry them in a few batches.
While sometimes I’ll use a wet batter for fish sticks—like classic British fish and chips—a breaded crust works better in the air fryer, so the fish sticks don’t stick to the basket. I don’t see myself using a traditional fry setup for fish sticks anytime soon!
What Type of Fish Works Best for Fish Sticks?
You have some options here. Any firm white fish will do well in fish stick form. Personally, I think cod is the best and is definitely what is used for most fried fish or fish sticks. That said, something like tilapia, grouper, halibut, or snapper would work fine.
For me, cod tends to be the most economical and ends up being buttery and tender after you fry it, while still being firm enough to not just fall apart.
If you are starting with frozen cod, which is fine, be sure to thaw it completely and blot the fish dry with paper towels before breading the fish.
How to Get a Crispy Crunchy Crust
The two tips to getting the crispiest air fried fish sticks are:
- Use panko breadcrumbs. They are already crispy and delicious and so when they get fried, they get even crispier. I recommend dipping the fish sticks in cornstarch before the egg and breadcrumbs, which will help the breadcrumbs stick to the fish. You could also use flour for this, but I like cornstarch for fish.
- Before you air fry the fish sticks, spray them with a light coat of nonstick cooking spray. This gives just a little bit of fat to the exterior and helps fry the crust of the fish sticks.
Tips for Air Frying Fish
The biggest problem people have when air frying is they forget to spray the basket to prevent sticking or they overcrowd the basket by piling in too much food. Work in batches and spread out the fish sticks evenly, this is one of the easiest and most successful air fryer recipes you’ll try. It’s a winner!
What to Serve with Fish Sticks
It goes without saying that you should serve these crispy fish sticks with tartar sauce—recipe below!—and fresh lemons, but there are other serving options as well! I like to serve these with a side dish that is bright and colorful like a sugar snap pea salad or a good coleslaw. If you want something creamy, try a baked mac and cheese, which goes well with any fried entrée!
More Amazing Air Fryer Recipes
- Air Fryer Chicken Tenders
- Air Fryer Egg Rolls
- Air Fryer Onion Rings
- Air Fryer Fried Chicken
- Air Fryer Chicken Nuggets
Prep the air fryer:
Spray your air fryer pan with nonstick spray. Some people prefer to preheat their air fryer, but I think it’s optional for this recipe.
Prepare the breading station:
Combine the cornstarch, salt, and pepper in a large shallow dish. In a separate shallow plate, whisk the eggs. Add panko and paprika to a third shallow dish.
Bread the fish:
Add fish sticks into the cornstarch and toss well to coat. Then add to egg mixture to coat and finally add to panko breadcrumbs making sure to coat all sides.
Air fry the fish sticks:
Working in batches, add fish sticks to your air fryer basket in an even layer. Spray them lightly with cooking spray.
Air fry for 6 minutes at 375˚F. Flip fish sticks using tongs and air fry for another 4 to 6 minutes until golden brown. Season with salt to taste, if desired.
Repeat with second batch of fish sticks.
Make the pickle and caper tartar sauce:
In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, fresh lemon juice, minced pickles, capers, and kosher salt. Mix until well combined.
Garnish with parsley or dill, if desired. Serve fish sticks with tartar sauce and lemon wedges.
Leftovers keep fine in the fridge for a few days in an airtight container. To reheat, air fry at 350˚F for 3 minutes.
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