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.
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.
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…
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)
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
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
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.
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.
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.
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.