I remember once, when I was working in Italy with a band (for the three people reading this who don’t know me, I’m a musician). We were eating in a restaurant in Rome and, as a member of the party began to sprinkle parmesan over his Linguine al Vongole, a look of horror spread over the face of the Organ Player, an Italian: “Cheese and fish? Cheese and fish?” His sheer sense of disgusted surprise will forever sit in my mind, alongside accidents, arguments, and other shocks to the system.
In light of that memory, goodness know what he would make of this, but this isn’t a recipe to please Italians With Good Taste, but rather to satisfy a sense of childhood nostalgia.
As a kid, on our very rare trips to McDonald’s (which, in the days before pocket money and time alone with friends, were restricted to once a year, after Carol singing in Kentish Town), the Filet o’ Fish was my burger of choice. It is a very strange beast; a smooth, seedless bun (I realise mine has seeds, but this is just a tribute, not a copy per se), a perfectly square piece of breaded fish, slathered in tartare sauce, and a slice of processed cheese. No salad, no pickles, no ketchup, no onion. The austerity of it, the combination of cheese and fish, the cute, appealing shininess of the bun: I loved it all.
This version deviates very little from that formula, designed as it is to evoke the original (once I thought of making it, I couldn’t shake the idea). Feel free to buy buns (a brioche bun would work well) or make your own, (I use THIS recipe, which works brilliantly) and eat with thin cut fries, as real or fake as you like.
This isn’t an especially healthy meal (duh!) so feel free to make yourself a nice salad the following day.
This recipe is based on cooking for four, but is intentionally a little vague with some quantities so you can adapt it.
You will need:
For the fish ‘burgers’
- 4 square-ish pieces of white fish. I used cod, but the original uses pollock. Use what you like
- Some plain flour
- An egg, beaten
- Some breadcrumbs, preferably panko, or your own homemade crumbs
For the tartare sauce
- 50ml mayonnaise
- A heaped teaspoon of Dijon Mustard
- A pickle, finely diced
- 2tbsp capers, finely diced
- Half a small shallot, finely diced
- 4 really good burger buns, split and toasted cut-side down in a dry pan
- 4 slices of processed cheese (under no circumstances use ‘real’ cheese. This recipe requires the plastic kind, and nothing else.)
First, put the flour, egg and breadcrumbs in separate bowls. Season the flour with salt and pepper, then dip and turn each piece of fish first in the flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs.
Heat two tablespoons of oil in a pan large enough to accommodate the fish pieces, over a medium heat. Whilst it’s heating, mix together the ingredients for the tartare sauce, season and mix.
Fry the fish for a few minutes on each side til crisp and deep golden brown.
Take a toasted bun per person. Lay a slice of cheese on the bottom half, top with a piece of fish, then slather the inside of the top half with tartare sauce, place it firmly on top, and voila.
This is not beautiful food, not healthy food, nor a sensible or tasteful combination, but it is satisfying.