A Fish Out of Water: Fish Fingers <i>Sand Dollar</i>

This simple and delectable fresh-seafood treat is perfect for spur-of-the-moment snacks or beach potlucks. From "People and Food" in our Aug. 2007

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A variety of firm-fleshed fish can be used to make fish fingers.Lynda Morris Childress

Sometimes I think fishing is my life. I love doing it. Over the past six years, during which my wife, Lisa, and I have been cruising the western Caribbean aboard Sand Dollar, our Polaris 43, I've gone out almost every day with my speargun, and I've managed to keep a steady supply of seafood on the table. Our favorites are schoolmaster snapper, yellowtail, bar jacks, dog snapper, and even barracuda. In this region, luckily, we've never heard about any cases of ciguatera, the food poisoning caused by the accumulation of toxins in the flesh of normally edible tropical fish.

Last year, Lisa and I spent several months anchored behind the reefs at a small group of coconut-covered islets called the Coco Bandero Cays, in the Kuna Yala region of Panama. This little archipelago is surrounded by an extensive network of coral reefs; a three-mile stretch of reef is shallow enough for good spearfishing. Mostly uninhabited, the center islands create a perfect anchorage. They're beautiful, the fish are abundant, the waters are clear and sheltered from waves, and the village of Nargana-with its rudimentary grocery store-is only four miles away.

At certain times of the year, this nest of an anchorage can become quite busy with boats passing through from the eastern Caribbean to the Panama Canal. But in the late spring, the number of boats in the entire San Blas chain of more than 300 islets dwindles to less than 100, and a few of the slower-moving cruisers congregate at the Coco Bandero Cays for long days of snorkeling and cool, breezy evenings with potluck dinners, campfires on the beach, and the occasional game of bocce-played with coconuts instead of bocce balls.

For these potlucks, we like to make fish fingers. They require no utensils to eat, they're delicious hot or cold, and there are never any leftovers to deal with just before bedtime. Here's how fish fingers get to a potluck, via Sand Dollar.

We fillet all fish, making sure not to forget the meat in the throat and cheeks of larger fish. We store the fish in a quart-sized plastic container, and each time we remove it from the fridge to cook some, we rinse whatever fish we don't use and drain it well before putting it back. Kept at about 35 degrees F, fish stored this way stays fresh for a week.

We cut up at least half a pound of fish per person, but we've seen hungry sailors consume upward of three pounds of fish each, so we generally just cook whatever fish we have available. This makes everyone happy and also empties out the fish container, giving me the perfect excuse to go spearfishing the next day!

Fish Fingers Sand Dollar

2 pounds fresh, firm-fleshed fish
1 cup white flour
1 teaspoon ground thyme or
1 teaspoon mixed Italian seasonings*
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 or 2 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup cooking oil
* Equal amounts of basil, oregano, sage, rosemary, and marjoram

Cut fish into long slices about half an inch thick. Pat the fish pieces dry. Combine the flour and seasonings in a shallow bowl. Stir well. Beat the egg(s) in a separate shallow bowl with water; whisk in the baking soda. Heat the cooking oil in a frying pan. Dip fish pieces into the egg mixture, dredge in the flour mixture, then lay them in the hot oil. Cook fish over medium-high heat for about 4 minutes or until browned. Turn and finish cooking another 3 or 4 minutes on the other side. Remove fish and drain on a paper towel, then transfer to a plate.
For a simple and zesty dip, use ketchup fortified with horseradish, wasabi, or hot sauce; a squeeze or two of lemon juice; and a shake of soy sauce. Garnish with fresh lemons or limes, if available.