Lent is upon us, and to my heathen mind, that means one thing: Shamrock Shake season at McDonald’s. What’s better, these annual few trips to McDonald’s bring relief from the lower-quality fish sandwiches I generally muddle through the rest of the year (snark). My earliest memories of the fish sandwich came with the Filet-O-Fish, and, in many ways, it’s still the gold standard. I’m not being entirely sarcastic either; who’s to say that, in the right context, a Filet-O-Fish washed down with a green mint shake isn’t the equal of a Grouper Reuben with a Florida Avenue Ale?
It’s hard to put a name to the species of fish that comprises that filling of this sandwich, as it has apparently changed over the years to suit tastes and supply, but here’s what McDonald’s themselves have to say on the matter:
Ingredients: Pollock, Wheat Flour, Water, Modified Food Starch, Contains 2% or Less: Yellow Corn Flour, Bleached Wheat Flour, Salt, Whey, Dextrose, Dried Yeast, Sugar, Cellulose Gum, Colored with Paprika and Turmeric Extract, Spice Extractives.
Pollock, eh? I think pollock is the fish used to make fake crab meat and as a filling for California rolls. So it comes with an impressive, diverse pedigree. But again, this could be a completely different species than that used to build the sandwich in my youth. It’s no doubt cheering to more environmentally conscious diners that this particular incarnation uses pollock caught from McDonald’s “own sustainable fishery.” I don’t remember those sorts of details being announced or publicized in 1985.
The sandwich itself, in 2014, seems smaller than I remember, which I mentally note to myself every year. So two of them ended up on my plate. The medium Shamrock Shake that served neither as an aperitif nor as a digestif but as an accompanying beverage was of exceptional quality. Ah, it’s like mint crack. It’s worth noting that the Shamrock Shake’s star has risen exponentially in the last ten years; during the hard 1990s, it was very much a niche item in certain regions, unheralded and un-marketed. But I digress.
At this point my fondness for the Filet-O-Fish is riding on the fumes of nostalgia. The sweetness of the shake did mitigate the piquancy of the two sandwiches, which tasted similar to what I imagine eating handfuls of salt must be like. The square “patty” is the marine equivalent of a Chicken McNugget, in the sense that it’s hard to tell it was ever part of a living, breathing animal. It certainly doesn’t resemble a fish filet. There’s a square slice of American cheese placed under the patty at a transverse angle, creating a bizarre Star of David-like design when viewed from above. In any case, you can’t really taste it. The tartar sauce topping and the spongy, buttery bun pretty much dominate the taste profile. I did actually like the bun. So it’s got that going for it.
Interesting nutritional fact: The Filet-O-Fish, according to McDonald’s, runs in at 390 calories. The shake? 680. So this hearty lunch ran a cool 1,440 calories. I think that means I still have room for a Grouper Philly and a rum runner later on?
Christopher Nank, Ph.D., is adjunct instructor of literature at Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida. His contributions to the Carrollwood, Florida, Patch blog can be read here. He resides in Tampa.