Did you grow up eating McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish sandwiches? Any kind of fried fish sandwiches? I sure did. Thousands of them, give or take one to two sandwiches. The tally is so startling it convinces me that even if I never get the chance to eat another, I’ll still—on the eve of my [hard rockin’] eighty-fifth birthday—be able to faintly taste them, to smell them, if reminded.
I hadn’t had one in a while, until about six months ago, when driving around near my hometown, I saw a sign that Mickey D’s was offering a deal on my once-favorite fish sandwich. I drove on through. Now, for those of us who know a thing or two about childhood nostalgia and the kinds of forever-ago dreamy expectations that come with it, this meal was bound to send me barreling toward disappointment. And sure enough—unwrapping it, eating it, I noticed how little flavor it had—outside of that which I can only attribute to its fried state. This lacking, combined with me being so disgruntled by the fact that I’ve always only peeled off the stupid Baltic Avenue Monopoly square from my soda, left me, in a word, ‘meh,’ about the whole experience.
I was sour grapes for a day and a half, wondering if all of the foods I once loved were indeed underwhelming now, too. I thought about re-trying a few of them, but then, no—not Swiss Cake Rolls. There will be no love lost there.
I’d all but forgotten about this incident until my recent grocery shop, when I saw the cod—on sale finally!—and thought briefly to bread it, pan-fry it, and sandwich it. To make it better than the Filet-O-Fish.
To that end, I first had to create a crumb coating with loads of flavor. My mom swears by using Ritz crackers on her baked haddock and cod dishes, and since I know those to be some of the tastiest recipes in all the land, I’m likely to agree they’re the best option for a buttery crisp crust. I, however, didn’t have any Ritz on hand, so I used Club crackers, which I think could really have been any generic white cracker and have yielded similarly great results.
To the crackers, I added garlic because I can’t live without it and a handful of parsley for its cool, clean, and refreshing flavor.
The fish filet, when pan-fried in a little olive oil, is—to be super authorly and articulate here—awe-some. (Did I tell you I was writing a book? Packed with big, beautiful descriptors like awesome.) Since it’s cooked quickly, the cod retains all of its soft and supple integrity. And using only a small amount of oil means that the fish stays fairly low in calories.
I chose to top it with a quick and zesty slaw, adding not only interesting textural variety, but a coolness, a refreshing contrast to the hot fish. The dressing that coats it is creamy, bright with lemon, and only the faintest bit sweet, making it a solid stand-in for traditional sweet-meets-sour tartar sauce.
Mickey D’s take note: this is what a fish sandwich should be.
Lighter Fried Fish Sandwich Recipe with Creamy Coleslaw
- 2 cups coleslaw mix or a mix of shredded green/red cabbage
- 2 scallions finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons sour cream
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 12 buttery white crackers recommended: Ritz or Club
- 2 garlic cloves
- ¼ cup fresh parsley leaves 1 handful
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 large eggs
- 1 pound cod filets cut into 4 equal sections
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 hamburger buns
- lemon wedges for serving
- In a medium bowl, combine the coleslaw mix and scallions.
- In a small bowl, whisk to combine the mayonnaise, sour cream, lemon juice, sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Add the dressing to the coleslaw and stir to coat. Cover and refrigerate the slaw until you’re ready to serve.
- In the bowl of a food processor, combine the crackers, garlic, parsley, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the pepper. Pulse until smooth. Pour the crumbs into a wide, shallow bowl.
- In another shallow bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Place the bowls of crumbs and eggs side by side to prepare for coating your fish.
- Dip both sides of 1 cod filet first in the egg mixture, shaking the fish lightly over the bowl to allow for any excess to drip off, then put the filet into the bowl of crumbs, pressing to coat one side. Flip the filet over and press to coat the other side evenly with the crumbs. Transfer the coated filet to a plate and repeat the process with the remaining 3 filets.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 of the filets and cook, undisturbed, until the undersides are crisp and lightly golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Flip the filets and cook for 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate and loosely tent the fish with foil to keep warm.
- Reduce the heat slightly and add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the skillet. Add the remaining 2 filets and cook, undisturbed, until the undersides are crisp and lightly golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Flip and cook for 3 minutes. Transfer to the plate with the other filets.
- To serve, lay the sliced sandwich buns on a clean work surface. Put one cod filet on each of four bun halves, pile each filet with about 3 tablespoons of slaw, and top with the remaining bun halves.