McDonald's Filet-O-Fish is the quintessential fast-food fish sandwich. It's a bit of a disappointment, given its status as a fast food staple. While it's definitely a little weird, we're not totally against adding some cheese to a fish sandwich. In the case of Filet-O-Fish, however, the American portion is overwhelming, in a way that makes us wonder if McDonald's is simply using it to cover the flavor of the fish.
The fish itself is good, fresh and light, when you can taste it through cheese, although it is still reminiscent of a fish sandwich from a high school cafeteria, thanks to its unnatural square shape. After all, we are talking about fast food fish sandwiches. But what really sinks this ship is the lack of crunch in the breading - there's nothing in this sandwich that provides a good crunch. If you want to scratch the itch of fried fish without committing to eating a whole sandwich, then White Castle has you covered with its panko breaded fish slider.
It's the smallest and simplest fish sandwich on our list, consisting of just one square of Alaskan pollock breaded with bar-sized panko, a slice of American cheese, and a steamed bun. Even tartar sauce, which is standard on most fish sandwiches, comes in a package next to it (so make sure they include one or two packs with your order). Fast food chains don't usually advertise their food with regard to sustainability, as they often aren't. But if you approach a snack in the box, you might see a poster proclaiming that the fish sandwich is 100% wild Alaska pollock.
But even better, it's a fantastic fish sandwich. The super crispy burger is part of a well-made sandwich. First, the bun is the same as the top-notch Breakfast Jack and there's a decent amount of tartar sauce that doesn't overwhelm the flavors of fried pollock. We're going to let go of wilted shredded lettuce because fast food doesn't have a good track record when it comes to fresh vegetables.
In any case, the star of the show is the pollock - there are plenty of high-quality fish that are designed to fill you up, and the breading dutifully covers Alaska gold without making you feel like the chain is skimping on fish. It's so simple and delicious that you won't even need to cover it with 14 cheese sauces to enjoy it. Why are there so many fast food restaurants serving fish sandwiches? It has to do with the season of Lent. During this period, Catholics observing Lent avoid eating meat in preparation for Easter. While less common now, when McDonald's introduced Filet-O-Fish in 1962, it was a serious practice among Catholics.
Does Burger King still have The Whaler? Not. Sadly, The Whaler has been discontinued, but Burger King is still offering Big Fish - a fish sandwich with 100% white pollock from Alaska. While wild pollock is also available in Jack in the Box, breading here isn't your typical panko or breadcrumbs - it's a dough of flour most commonly found in an order of fish and chips. Seriously, the menu is changing, with grilled salmon and shrimp joining the usual assortment of fried fish such as the Alaskan wild pollock sandwich. The Filet-O-Fish sandwich was a success - not only did it save Groen's restaurant but it also led him to open 43 franchise locations allowing him to retire a rich man.
And Hardee's serve a beer battered fish sandwich with an Alaskan pollock fillet battered in beer with layers of lettuce and tartar sauce. The only really questionable aspect of the fish was whether it was sustainable or not - which is a valid question considering that unsustainable fishing threatens the survival of many populations of marine life (but more on that in a minute). To that end for many Filet-O-Fish fans the size of the sandwich really helps make the sandwich what it is.