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Is McDonald's Fish Sandwich What Fast Food Is Supposed to Be?

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Wed, Feb 26, 2014 at 9:01 AM

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click to enlarge Filet-o-Fish from McDonald's - MALCOLM BEDELL
  • Malcolm Bedell
  • Filet-o-Fish from McDonald's
McDonald's FiIet-O-Fish
Name: McDonald's Filet-O-Fish
Price: TWO Filet-O-Fish sandwiches for $3.33
Ronald McDonald says: "Dive right in and enjoy our wild-caught fish from our sustainable fishery, topped with melty American cheese, creamy tartar sauce and served on a soft, steamed bun. "

click to enlarge Filet-o-Fish from McDonald's - MALCOLM BEDELL
  • Malcolm Bedell
  • Filet-o-Fish from McDonald's
Observations: Look, we're not any happier about this than you are. The sandwich that started it all, the sandwich that summarily trounced Ray Kroc's Hula Burger way back in 1962, the sandwich that most people cite as the reason NOT to eat fast food fried fish and cheese sandwiches, was our favorite of the bunch, by quite a wide margin.

What sets this sandwich apart? A few things. Though the fish fillet itself, a fairly unremarkable mixture of pollack and hoki, is tasty, it's not doing anything that is, in itself, better than the other chains. The fish is mild, with nice, big flakes of fillet. The half-slice of American cheese is a bit of a puzzle, in that it melts in the areas where it is directly in contact with the fish, and stays solid elsewhere. And the tartar sauce is absolutely heaped on, making the mayonnaise and dill pickle mixture perhaps a tad overwhelming for some.

What makes this sandwich better than all the others we tasted, however, is the steamed bun, which melts and gives way immediately, making this sandwich seem like the seafaring equivalent of the best drive-in steamed cheeseburger, with no pesky, flavorless hot lettuce to get in the way. All of the ingredients fuse into a puffy, steamy little bite of the sea that's stunningly tasty, in spite of any preconceptions to the contrary.

Rating: 7 fluffy clouds of deep-sea deliciousness out of 10.

See also: 11 McDonald's Menu Hacks That Will Change Your Life

How can this be? How can McDonald's sandwich, made with a reconstituted fish patty that bears little resemblance to real food, outperform Wendy's fish sandwich, which uses an actual, honest-to-goodness cod fillet? The answer is twofold.

First, McDonald's succeeded as it always does in creating an entirely new food. In the same way that a McDonald's cheeseburger can't reasonably be compared to a cheeseburger fresh from your grill at home, but still manages to be delicious, the Filet-O-Fish really can't be evaluated as a "fish sandwich." Many "fast casual" restaurants serve "fish sandwiches," made with crunchy, golden-fried cod or haddock, served with a touch of tartar sauce on a fresh potato bun.

This, quite simply, ain't that. The Filet-O-Fish manages to be something else entirely, a tiny taste of crispy fried fish served with a quart of warm tartar sauce on the softest whisper of steamed bun, the only sandwich in the McDonald's lineup that isn't served on a griddled bun. It may not win any prizes for purity of ingredients, but if you can score a freshly made, piping hot Filet-O-Fish, its power is hard to deny.

More important, though, is that the Filet-O-Fish hasn't forgotten what it most essentially is. It's fast food that remembers what fast food is supposed to be. It's not competing for your chain restaurant dollars; it's not hoping to convince you that a yellow rainslicker-wearing fisherman caught the fish in your sandwich anywhere nearby (or even within thousands of miles); and it's not trying to make you think that eating a fried fish sandwich in your car is the same thing as eating a fried fish sandwich in a restaurant.

With the Filet-O-Fish, the pendulum sings the other way altogether. On special, these diminutive little sandwiches set you back about a buck and a half a piece. For that price, it's hard to imagine a convenience food that delivers more completely as a satisfying snack - except for nearly-worthless fruit.

The Filet-O-Fish doesn't apologize. It delights. And, if we are somehow capable of ever ordering a fast food fish sandwich again after all of this, it is the Filet-O-Fish that we will be returning for.

Malcolm Bedell blogs about cooking and food weirdness at From Away. Follow him on FacebookTwitter or Instagram. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.

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