Fried Fish Sandwich: Filet-o-fish

Fast Food Slow: Filet-O-Fish Sandwich

January 5, 2010 · 45 comments

Before I, so-they-say, “jump the shark,” I’d like to put an end to this series by slowing down the fishy staple at Mickey D’s, the Filet-O-Fish sandwich.

My version uses line-caught Pacific cod coated in a batter made with local beer. I stuffed it in a homemade bun with tartar sauce and a slice of fresh cheese.

I was a tad apprehensive about recreating this recipe. The thing is, I hate mixing fish and cheese. Just thinking about the two on one plate gives me the creeping willies. I cringe a little when I see people topping clam sauce or scampi with grated cheese. I’m sorry. I just do.

fish sandwich PN7QUQCEM332

You can see why I wasn’t exactly eager to fry up some beautiful fish and ruin it with a slab of yellow cheese. But when I topped the warm, just-baked bun and the freshly fried cod with a slice of mild cheddar, something happened. The cheese softened. I took a bite and the sharp tang melted into the delicate, fluffy fish. I was hooked. Maybe now I’ll think twice before averting my eyes when I spot someone munching on a cheesy fish taco.

McDonald’s uses approximately 11 million pounds per year of hoki in their Filet-O-Fish, and 4 million pounds of Alaskan pollock. They recently added pollock to the menu as the population of hoki began declining. I wonder what happens when the pollock starts to disappear. Will they turn to a third species – a fourth maybe? Thank goodness cows are still around –who knows what animal would take their place in the Big Mac or quarter-pounder (Sorry cows, no offense.) When Lou Groen invented the fish sandwich in 1962, he opted for halibut. McDonald’s quickly swapped out the more expensive fish for Atlantic cod – and we all know the sad state of the Atlantic cod population.

open fish sandwich

I purchased the Pacific cod at Hapuku fish shop in Oakland, where the fishmonger assured me it was caught less than 100 miles away. They veer away from commercial fishing boats and strive instead to stock fish caught hook and line by local fisherman. The batter was a combination of Anchor Steam beer, flour and baking powder, and the cheese was from Spring Hill Cheese Company in Petaluma. The tartar was homemade of course, starting with my homemade mayo, and stirring in capers, pickles, Dijon mustard and lemon juice. I made the buns using a brioche recipe I’ve been dying to try for months. The Filet-O-Fish comes on a steamed bun, sans sesame seeds, but I thought the feathery texture of brioche would pair nicely.

So now I’d like to raise a glass to the fast food chains that made these posts possible. May you one day sit back, think about what your loyal customers are eating, and slow things down a bit.

Just a thought…

bitten fish sandwich

Filet-O-Fish Sandwich with Pacific Cod and Homemade Brioche Buns
Makes 4 sandwiches and 8 buns

1 pound fresh Pacific cod, or other mild local fish
1 cup local beer, preferably something dark (I used Anchor Steam)
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 cup flour
4 slices cheddar cheese (anything but extra-sharp)
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Peanut Oil
Extra-virgin olive oil

Tarter Sauce:
1 egg yolk
2/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon champagne vinegar
2 tablespoons minced shallots
1 tablespoon chopped capers
1 tablespoon minced pickles
1 tablespoon sweet relish
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

fish sandwich ingredients

Homemade Brioche Buns (adapted from Hidefumi Kubota, Comme Ça, Los Angeles, via NYT)
3 tablespoons warm milk
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened.

Cut your filets into four equal parts. Remove any remaining bones.

Combine flour, beer, baking powder, a pinch of salt and ground pepper into a large bowl. Stir until fully combined and smooth. Put in the fridge until ready to use.

Heat up a Dutch oven and add about a ½ inch of peanut oil and a few tablespoons of olive oil. The oils should be in a ratio of 2 parts peanut to 1 part olive.

Dip fish in the beer batter, and place in the oil when hot. Fry for about 1 1/2 minutes on each side (this will vary depending on how thick your fish is).

Arrange fish on a warm bun. Top with tartar sauce, and thin slices of cheese.

Brioche Buns:
Preheat oven to 200F, then shut off.

Combine 1 cup warm water, milk, yeast and sugar. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Beat one egg in a small bowl.

In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Add softened butter and rub into flour between your fingers, making crumbs. With a large spatula, stir in yeast mixture and beaten egg until a dough forms. Scrape dough onto clean, unfloured counter and knead for 8 to 10 minutes. The dough will be sticky, but resist adding too much extra flour to your hands.

Shape dough into a ball and return it to the bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in the warm oven for 1 hour. It should double in size.

Grease a baking sheet with butter. Divide dough into 8 equal parts. Gently roll each into a ball and arrange 2 to 3 inches apart on baking sheet. Cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel and let buns rise in the warm oven for another hour.

fresh baked buns 2

Set a large shallow pan of water on oven floor. Preheat oven to 400F with rack in center. Beat remaining egg with 1 tablespoon water and brush some on top of buns. Add sesame seeds. Bake for 15 minutes, turning halfway through. The tops of buns should get nice and golden.

Tartar Sauce:
In a large bowl, beat together egg yolk, 1 tablespoon vinegar, 1 teaspoon lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Take a kitchen towel roll it into the shape of an “O.” Place your bowl on top of the towel – this will prevent it from moving around when whisking the mayo. While whisking, add a few drops of olive oil. Keep whisking, and add a few more drops. And a few more. When your sauce begins to thicken, add olive oil in a very slow stream, whisking constantly. Your arm should hurt at this point. When all of the olive oil is incorporated add the rest of the lemon juice.

Add the remaining ingredients and stir until combined. Store in the fridge until ready to use.

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{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

amy January 5, 2010 at 8:17 pm

I’ve really enjoyed this series. Not a big Fliet-o-fish fan (childhood trauma), but this does look great.


GrilledShane January 5, 2010 at 8:43 pm

If McD’s served something like this, they would have a customer for life. The original Filet-O-Fish is a throw away sandwich, while this is clearly not. Very well done! I think you should start your own “Fast Food Slow” restaurant. I surely would visit, no matter where it was located. I am definitely going to miss this series! (P.S. Is this a fish sandwich with cheese or a grilled cheese with fish? :P )


my spatula January 5, 2010 at 9:55 pm

so brilliant!! love the use of the brioche bun, and so happy you’re continuing with this series! welcome back, my dear! :)


denise (chez danisse) January 5, 2010 at 10:34 pm

Now that’s dedication–homemade bun, tartar, and local beer for the fish. Bravo!


Jessica @ How Sweet It Is January 6, 2010 at 3:44 am

This is fantastic – I love fish sandwiches!


megc January 6, 2010 at 7:15 am

This looks great! I loved the filet-o-fish growing up, but haven’t bought anything from McDonald’s since 1986. I will definitely try this at home. The bun recipe looks particularly awesome, too.


P Deddy January 6, 2010 at 7:49 am

“creeping willies”…I can just see you shuddering at you typed that! Hahaha, perfect timing to close out the theme, too, IMO. Now, back to the lush entrees that made you a coast-to-coast classic…


Janet January 6, 2010 at 8:39 am

Fantastic! You know, I’ve never want to try a Filet-O-Fish sandwich… until now. Love the background on the types of fish, too – I’m going to have to check out that shop!


jeff clark January 6, 2010 at 8:41 am

Great fun series. I really love your photography of your end results.


Heather in SF January 6, 2010 at 9:02 am

Wow, I really want one of these…


MrsLavendula January 6, 2010 at 9:53 am

looks delicious!


Jessica Lee Binder January 6, 2010 at 9:58 am

I am SO with you. I love love love cheese. I adore seafood of every kind. I do not like them together. NO cheese on my fish! I can’t deny that your picture is enticing, but can’t do it.


Jenny January 6, 2010 at 10:31 am

Wow, I’m really impressed – you’ve taken something that has always looked deeply unappetizing to me and made me want to eat it. Now that’s high art. Fantastic post, I really hope to try something like this for myself!


Tanya January 6, 2010 at 10:53 am

You are amazing! I haven’t had Micky D’s in a loooong time and I do admit that one of the things I miss is their fillet o fish. I might just try your version so I won’t feel so guilty. hahaha!


Charles G Thompson January 6, 2010 at 11:00 am

Wonderful post. I love that you are doing these re-creations while adding information about sustainability. I grew eating at McDonald’s and the Filet-o-Fish was a favorite. What fun to see it here made with quality ingredients!


Maria January 6, 2010 at 11:42 am

You did it again. Another “fast food” winner!


Kristi Rimkus January 6, 2010 at 9:01 pm

Wow! Fantastic. Pictures and recipe!


Jenn AKA The Leftover Queen January 7, 2010 at 7:42 am

I have really really enjoyed this series – it took a great deal of creativity to match the look and flavor, but be way better! Very cool! I hope if you ever feel inspired by another fast food classic, you will share it with us!


Allison Arevalo January 8, 2010 at 9:09 am

Thanks so much Jenn! I really enjoyed writing it. And you never know, it may reappear sometime in the future :)


Claire January 7, 2010 at 10:06 pm

I just came across your site and LOVE it! Your food looks amazing. I love the idea of fast food slow. Can’t wait to look at all your other recipes!


Oh and I just moved from Berkeley. Such great food there!


Allison Arevalo January 8, 2010 at 9:07 am

Thanks so much Claire! Looking forward to checking out your site as well.


Nanette January 8, 2010 at 3:26 am

Zia Allison you can come cook for my kids anytime!


Allison Arevalo January 8, 2010 at 9:07 am

I’ve always wanted to be called Zia! Yay!


Kate @ Savour Fare January 8, 2010 at 8:37 am

You’re so Italian with your fish and cheese aversion! I will say that the Filet O Fish is my McDonald’s weakness — never look twice at the Big Mac, but I will occasionally eat the Filet. Rather eat good fish and chips though, come to think of it — you might consider upping the vinegar in the tartar sauce.


Chez Us January 8, 2010 at 1:32 pm

I have loved this series, have not left comments on all of them, but have enjoyed them all. I am not a fish sandwich kind of gal, cheese on fish kind of yicks me out, but I have to say you made it look pretty damn good! Great job on the series!!


carrie @ Deliciously Organic January 9, 2010 at 6:53 am

Loving your series on fast food! Thanks for the great recipes!


Diana @ frontyardfoodie January 9, 2010 at 9:48 am

I love your takes on fast food because they’re so obviously superior to even most slow foods. hehe

I know what you mean about fish and cheese.


J2Kfm January 11, 2010 at 12:37 am

I absolutely adore Filet-o-Fish, been growing up on them. Then the rebellious palate kicked in, and I’m a Big Mac-er til now. :)
Still, sometimes, I crave for some fish sandwich, for a lighter fast food experience.
Love your blog.


elizabeth January 11, 2010 at 4:43 pm

What a lovely blog. When is your book, “Fast Food Slow” coming out? The time is right.


Allison Arevalo January 11, 2010 at 8:11 pm

Thanks so much Elizabeth! No book deal yet, but you never know :)


Luisa January 24, 2010 at 11:12 am

I’m actually making these sandwiches for lunch today and was online curious to see if anyone else had attempted a homemade “filet o’fish”. Anchor Steam is my fav beer to use for beer batter, the only difference is I use egg in mine too. I also love taking unheathy versions of fast food and making them into REAL food. I made a version of Pizza Huts combination deep dish pizza a few nights ago so I’ll have to check out your stuffed crust recipe. Nice work! :-)


Erin June 16, 2010 at 7:24 pm

I think I agree with the previous post, you need to make a “fast food slow” restuarant, including your fab comfort foods too. I know I would be stopping by sometime to chow.


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