I’ve always wondered why the ready-made breadcrumbs you can buy in the UK are a lurid orange, as are many of the pre-breaded food products on display in the shops, such as fish fingers and chicken. This is not the case in other countries. Japanese panko breadcrumbs are beige and so are the Spanish ones sold for croquetas.
Looking at the ingredients list of one well-known brand I see it claims to contain no artificial colourings but does include turmeric and paprika extracts. Again, why? I can only assume the added colouring is a weird hangover from the orange-hued 1970s. If you bake your own they go a rather attractive shade of golden brown without any unnecessary additions.
Ah, you say, but I don’t have time to toast breadcrumbs in my busy life and after all it’s your kitchen and your supper. Hand on heart, it takes just 15-20 minutes in an oven pre-heated to 165C/325F/Gas Mark 3 and properly dried they’ll keep well in a sealed jar.
Whizz the bread, crusts and all, into rough crumbs. Spread them in a roasting tin and cook, stirring occasionally so they colour evenly, until a deep golden brown. Keep an eye on them towards the end of the cooking period so they don’t burn. Bung the crumbs in a plastic bag when they’ve cooled and crush out any bigger lumps with a rolling pin. Job done.
I wanted them to coat home-made fish fingers. The excellent Felicity Cloake has, as usual, got here ahead of me. She suggests using panko crumbs for extra crunch but grinding half of them finer for extra coverage. I used half and half of my own toasted crumbs and panko but the choice, as ever, is yours. And if they’re not proper fish fingers to you unless they’re dayglo orange, by all means use a tub of the commercial stuff.
Finally, ask your fishmonger for the thicker loin rather than the thinner tail fillets, to make it easier to cut good fat fingers.
Homemade Fish Fingers (serves 3-4)
500g sustainably caught loin of cod or other firm white fish
50g plain flour
Salt and pepper
2 eggs, beaten
100g breadcrumbs of your choice
2-3 tbsp sunflower oil, for frying
Cut the fish into chunky fingers, lengthways rather than across the grain. Sprinkle lightly with salt and put in the fridge for 20 minutes to firm up.
Put the breadcrumbs in a deep plate or shallow bowl. In a second bowl, mix the flour with a pinch each of salt and freshly ground black pepper. The beaten eggs go into a third bowl.
Dip each piece of fish in the flour, then the egg, shaking off any excess. Coat thoroughly in the breadcrumbs and place on a a tray or large plate.
Put a wide frying pan on a medium-high heat and add enough oil to cover the bottom. Fry the fish fingers for about three minutes a side, until golden brown, crispy and cooked through. You'll need to do this in batches so put the cooked ones on kitchen paper to drain and continue frying the remainder until they're all done, adding a little more oil if necessary.
We ate ours with fried potatoes, minted peas and a dollop of home-made tartare sauce, but they would make a very good fish finger sarnie, ketchup optional.