On Fridays during Lent, Christians around the globe abstain from eating meat and rely instead on seafood for sustenance. But at the close of a long, hectic week, who isn’t exhausted? A large supper of large-scaled finned companions can appear intimidating, so… fast food to the rescue!
While some chains offer fish sandwiches year-round, the majority only do so for about six weeks, making fish Fridays more of a special occasion as you load up on fillets until next year. And each year, the offerings become more enticing as the main players cast their nets to see if they can devise more ingenious ways to outdo the Big Fish, the Filet-o-Fish, and others who have committed to fish 365. In addition, with fish being in the spotlight, there is a renewed emphasis on serving them fresh and hot, making this the ideal time of year to attempt a tried-and-true dish.
Which fast-food seafood sandwich is the best? We have caught them all to determine whether they sink, stench, or swim. With these rankings, presumably you’ll be able to choose a sandwich that makes you feel like you’re not giving up meat, but rather indulging in fish. Here is their ranking.
1. Checkers Deep Sea Double
Is it not true that more is better? Especially when it only costs 40 additional calories to double your seafood and add cheese? (We, too, are unsure of how this logic works.) Ultimately, not so much. The addition of more meat and melted American cheese would seem to improve this sandwich, but in this instance, it actually detracts from it.
The cheese is saccharine and strange; we suspect that its production is more oil-based than dairy-based, as opposed to, say, our choices for Best American Cheese. Therefore, instead of augmenting and enriching the flavor of the crispy, breadcrumb-coated squares of unidentified fish, it brought out the greasiness of the fish’s retained oils.
In addition, the components were unevenly layered, making it difficult to take a satisfying bite. This was made more difficult by the dark morsels of meat with a fishier flavor scattered throughout each patty. You can remove them along with the blue-ish veins, which might also deter a visual eater, leaving you with a solitary sandwich… Only now with double the breading and a larger dose of that ubiquitous oil, whose chemical flavor shouts “fast food!” in a negative, nostalgic manner.
2. Checkers Crispy Fish Sandwich
As the “budget buy” of the group, I find it somewhat surprising that this sandwich is popular enough to be offered year-round. I’m not positive about you, but Rally’s or Checkers does not come to mind when I think of a place to get fish, but here we are.
It consists of unidentified fish sliced into squares, coated in breadcrumbs, and deep-fried until crisp. The fillet was rather thin, and each layer of breading floated above the flesh, resulting in an overall lightness. This was served on a soft, puffy bun whose toasting failed to compensate for its unremarkable, white-bread cafeteria burger construction.
It is largely unremarkable and unsatisfying, with shredded iceberg lettuce, a sweet tartar sauce, and a hint of overheated oil. From flavor to density to mass, there is not much to it, making it unobjectionable but not particularly noteworthy.
3. Hardee’s Panko Breaded Pollock Sandwich
Those anticipating a beer-battered fish in this year’s compilation will be disappointed. This year, the chain that previously distinguished itself with ale-based preparations has opted to panko-bread their Alaskan pollock and serve it on a toasted baguette with nothing more than a frilly green-leaf lettuce leaf and tartar sauce. I’d like to point out that this is not the vastly underrated potato bun that, for some reason, nobody mentions and that is used for premium sandwiches.
Thus, let’s move on to what’s pertinent. Taking a cue from Arby’s, the panko breading on this somewhat trapezoidal fillet is light in an attempt to mimic the shape of a fish fillet. This results in a narrow cut that does not finish out the squashy, mealy sesame bun on one side, but slightly overhangs on the opposite side.
This is acceptable; we are all adults capable of balancing our meals. However, this tender, flaky fish falls short due to a strange, unnatural sweetness. It’s not just the breading, which is nicely light but regrettably retains fryer oil and is less crispy than the competition. It’s truly in the meat, so there was no way to avoid it, especially since it lingered in the aftertaste and the entire sandwich — with its bland bun and generic, inconsistent iceberg leaves — was too flimsy to combat it.
In actuality, the tartar on both sides was relish-forward and amplified the sweetness, making the dish taste slightly off. However, a few of their (also underrated) salted and seasoned fries provided a counterpoint.
4. Arby’s Crispy Fish Sandwich
There are conflicting reports regarding when Arby’s decided to offer “ocean meat,” as a former brand executive termed it. Personally, I don’t recall them offering a fish sandwich until the spring after Wendy’s introduced theirs, but since then, they’ve appeared every year. Previously, they would promote the use of Alaskan pollock; this year, however, it is not specified. But their ever-expanding menu has three new items this season, and this now-classic sandwich serves as the basis for the new fiery and returning King’s Hawaiian Deluxe. And a foundation feels precisely as it should. If it were a home, it would be considered manufacturer-grade.
It is a substantial piece of fish that is longer but not broader than the toasted sesame-seeded bun it is sandwiched between. It is served with an abundance of freshly grated lettuce and a tartar sauce that appears to contain bits of carrot in addition to the standard sweet relish. The old Fish n’ Cheddar is no longer available, but you may add it upon request. Random (mistaken?) pieces of red onion notwithstanding, this extremely simple, minimal, and candidly underdressed sandwich could use some zhuzhing.
The fish is crunchy with a balanced quantity of breadcrumb coating, with some dark flecks that taste more strongly than others and a texture that begins to pull firmly (and unpleasantly) like surimi if it is allowed to cool. Aside from that, it is impartial and as basic as a pair of black leggings.
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