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McDonald's Filet-O-Fish


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#1 Holly Moore

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Posted 13 February 2008 - 10:59 AM

Saw a traditional Lenten season ad for McDonald's Filet-O-Fish. Haven't ordered one in ages, but during its earlier, pre Big Mac and Ray Kroc still involved years the Filet O' Fish was the best sandwich item on McDonald's menu.

Filet-O-Fish was McDonald's first new product, dating back to when meatless Fridays were more prevalent. Culture shock. Fish at McDonalds.

McDonald's systematizes everything. Filet-O-Fish sandwich required its own fryer (so the fish flavor would not impact the fries), its own method of bun warming (a steamer because nobody liked the pairing of a Filet-O-Fish filet and a caramelized, grill toasted bun), and its own tartar sauce dispenser - a caulking gun-like apparatus developed by Prince Castle. Prince Castle, partially owned by McDonald's executives, developed all specialized McDonald's equipment.

The cheese - just a half slice not a whole slice - was added to make the idea of a fish sandwich more appealing to the mind's eye. Also, like the steamed bun, the Filet-O-Fish tasted better with cheese. And, it is probably in McDonald's genes. When in doubt, throw on some cheese.

Ray Kroc did not like the flavor of any of the canned tartar sauces. He did like the tartar sauce prepared by the executive chef of one of the Hilton Hotels in Chicago. McDonald's worked with the chef to replicate the sauce in a canned variety. The only way they could was by coming up with a multi-step process. Mayonnaise base went in one can; pickle relish in another can.

Every morning a crew member prepared the tartar sauce. The mayonnaise base and the relish where mixed together. Then, using an onion dicer also developed by Prince Castle, fresh onion was chopped up and stirred in. Finally the caulking tubes were loaded with a day's supply of tartar sauce. Because the onion flavor intensified with time, tartar sauce could not be carried over from one day to another. A new batch had to be made every day.

Prince castle also made the special filet holder for cooking the "North Atlantic Whitefish" filets. That was the prescribed employee response whenever someone asked, "What kind of fish." It was cod, as in the source of cod liver oil. "North Atlantic Whitefish" sounded more appetizing.

The finished sandwich was also more fragile than hamburgers. As I recall McDonald's specified a ten minute holding time for everything. At 15 minutes a McDonald's hamburger was still a hamburger. Even at 10 minutes the Filet-O-Fish was kinda gloppy - steamed bun and all the moisture from the fried filet. Anyone in the know only ordered a Filet-O-Fish during a rush period when they turned over fast. There was nothing worse at McDonald's than a 3:30 PM Filet-O-Fish sandwich.

When working at a McDonald's on a new product test, I always waited until a fresh batch came out of the fryer. There was nothing better than a piping hot Filet-O-Fish on a just steamed bun.

Edited by Holly Moore, 13 February 2008 - 11:03 AM.

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#2 jsmeeker

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Posted 13 February 2008 - 11:14 AM

Tha's some great insight, Holly. Thanks for sharing.

who has had once recently?

I've NEVER had one, so I don't know what they were once like. Maybe I should get one this Friday (even if I don't have a specific reason to do the "Fish on Friday" thing)

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#3 cathrynapple

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Posted 13 February 2008 - 11:22 AM

I had one the other day, but I really didn't enjoy it. When I took the first bite, hot oil spewed out of the weird, overly crunchy breading and burned my tongue. :( I also didn't like the flavor.

Maybe an off day?

#4 petite tête de chou

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Posted 13 February 2008 - 11:46 AM

When I was a little girl the Filet-O-Fish was always my choice over a hamburger unless there was a small, crappy toy involved. The fish was easier to chew,"less likely to choke" says my mom and "easier to digest." Who knows. I thought that I was quite special being the only one who got fish.
It's been many, many years since I had a Filet-O-Fish but my husband gets them every so often. After the Crazy-Cow-Disease scare he would *only* get the fish sandwiches for his fast food fix.
"North Atlantic Whitefish" sounds dubious and actually less appetizing than cod which I recognize and love.
Really interesting info! Thanks.
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#5 Chris Hennes

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Posted 13 February 2008 - 12:02 PM

"North Atlantic Whitefish" sounds dubious and actually less appetizing than cod which I recognize and love.

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I was thinking the same thing, especially since that ambiguity is being used against them right now by another fast food chain, who is actively advertising that their fish sandwich is not "mystery fish." The commercial confused me at first, because I thought, "hey, isn't McDonald's just cod? That's not 'mystery fish'..."

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#6 Sherry B

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Posted 13 February 2008 - 12:08 PM

I have one of these about once a year or so. I have to scrape off a lot of the tartar sauce, though....the proportion of sauce to sandwich is way too high, methinks. To me they're kind of comfort foodish in terms of fast food; always fresh and hot, non-threatening and yummy.

In related news; I had one of the new Wendy's "premium" fish sandwiches the other day, and I did not like it at all. Far too crunchy, with a strong chemical-ish taste to the breading, (the fish itself had no flavor whatsoever), and the bun and cheese were stone cold.

Thanks for the insider McDonalds info.....I find it fascinating.

#7 Dana

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Posted 13 February 2008 - 12:14 PM

Cheese does not belong on fish sandwiches. :hmmm: Sonic's fish sandwiches, available only during Lent, are, IHMO, much superior.
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#8 Carlovski

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Posted 13 February 2008 - 12:15 PM

When I was a kid, and McDonalds was a treat, I used to have Filet-O-Fish. Partially because I have always liked fish, but probably mainly because I didn't want to have the same as all the other kids!
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#9 OnigiriFB

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Posted 13 February 2008 - 12:24 PM

I have always been partial to the filet-o-fish unless there was a toy that I wanted with the happy meal then it was chicken nuggets meal when I was a kid. Now 90% of the time I go to McDs I get the filet o fish. Everywhere I've gone it's always been the freshest tasting.

#10 Keith Orr

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Posted 13 February 2008 - 12:43 PM

Some of the local McDonalds here in Portland Oregon have "Filet O Fish Fridays" where you can get them for a buck a piece.

#11 Holly Moore

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Posted 13 February 2008 - 12:46 PM

"North Atlantic Whitefish" sounds dubious and actually less appetizing than cod which I recognize and love.

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I was thinking the same thing, especially since that ambiguity is being used against them right now by another fast food chain, who is actively advertising that their fish sandwich is not "mystery fish." The commercial confused me at first, because I thought, "hey, isn't McDonald's just cod? That's not 'mystery fish'..."

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My direct experience with McDonald's was late 60's and early 70's. Back then there was far less awareness of fish. As I recall, back then, many considered cod to be junk fish.
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#12 Chris Amirault

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Posted 13 February 2008 - 12:56 PM

Holly, another gem on the history of our food.

As a die-hard New Englander with cod fishing in my genes and Flo's fried clams as my "Dead Man Walking" final meal, I must admit that, against all reason, a Filet-O-Fish is my absolute favorite fast food item.
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#13 Zeemanb

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Posted 13 February 2008 - 01:11 PM

I really do appreciate the detailed info on what is probably the only McD's item I ever ate with any regularity. I have to say, out of all of the major chain burger joint menu items, it was definitely at the top of my list when I was still eating fast food. I was ALL ABOUT the insane amount of tartar sauce they usually had on them...which is why I never liked the "double" filet-o-fish...they always seemed to have TOO MUCH FISH and the sauce just couldn't support it!

#14 Domestic Goddess

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Posted 14 February 2008 - 05:19 AM

Like Sherry, I too scrape off the tartar sauce off the filet. Somehow this is the only thing I order whenever my hubby and the kids go out to eat at McD's.
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#15 BekkiM

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Posted 14 February 2008 - 06:36 AM

Add me to the list of people who only ordered the Filet-o-Fish when we were "treated" to McDonalds when I was a child (I think it was because of my very un-American dislike of ground beef). I never scrape off the tartar sauce, but you definitely have to lift the bun and spread the glob around to get even coverage. When I was pregnant with my son, the Micky-D's fish sandwich was my one big craving--I probably ate 2-3 a week (and, consequently, gained more weight than my doctor thought was good for me).

I haven't had one in years, mostly because we very rarely eat fast food, but I still consider it my "go-to" item if I'm stuck in an airport or on a long freeway drive. I tried Burger King's version once (once!) and it was nasty--you have to do the real thing or have nothing at all, imho.

Thanks for the history!
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#16 Lilija

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Posted 14 February 2008 - 10:33 AM

I love tidbits of info like this, not only does it remind me of a very yummy bit of fast food, it gives me a new appreciation for it (and craving). The Filet-O-Fish has always been my alternate choice, when I wasn't in the mood for nuggets. So good, but the best part is opening it up and eating about half the tartar sauce (I KNEW it was good, now I know why...) with my fries.

#17 jsmeeker

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Posted 14 February 2008 - 10:53 AM

I'm not a fan of tartar sauce. Should I order one sans sauce to try it out? If I could get cocktail sauce on it instead, I would be all set.

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#18 Human Bean

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Posted 14 February 2008 - 12:07 PM

Haven't had one of these in ages; my recollection is that there was too much sauce on them, but they were kinda sorta good otherwise.

Thanks for the info, and I think I'm going to try them again in the next few days!

#19 Holly Moore

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Posted 14 February 2008 - 12:31 PM

A few questions for anyone now working in a McDonald's or who has worked in one within the fast few years.

1. Does McDonald's prefry and hold the fish filets in a universal holding cabinet like they do their burgers? Or, are they still batch fried as needed?

2. Is McDonald's still steaming the buns or are they toasted or caramelized?

3. Does the tartar sauce arrive at the McDonald's totally premixed or is the process similar to the old way - mayonnaise base, relish, fresh chopped onion combined and prepared daily?
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#20 KatieLoeb

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Posted 14 February 2008 - 12:35 PM

Now you've done it. Now I have to have one. I always liked these so much better than the burgers.

Just so happens I'll be passing a Mickey D's with a drive through enroute to pick up a package at the UPS depot on my way to work this afternoon. I'll report back.

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#21 docsconz

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Posted 14 February 2008 - 12:46 PM

Given the current low availability and high price of North Atlantic cod, I wonder if McD's is still using cod for the sandwich or if it is truly now generic North Atlantic whitefish or perhaps not even North Atlantic whitefish anymore? Given the depressed state of that fishery, they probably should be using some other fish at least until the cod population (hopefully) rebounds.
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#22 Susie Q

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Posted 14 February 2008 - 01:10 PM

Given the current low availability and high price of North Atlantic cod, I wonder if McD's is still using cod for the sandwich or if it is truly now generic North Atlantic whitefish or perhaps not even North Atlantic whitefish anymore? Given the depressed state of that fishery, they probably should be using some other fish at least until the cod population (hopefully) rebounds.

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That's what I wondered when I read the first post. My H. Salt. Fish and Chips (a chain rest.) guy said that what he uses now is pollock.

I never liked McDonalds hamburgers. A FoF without cheese or tartar was what I would order along with tallow fried french fries. Haven't had either in ages.

#23 ludja

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Posted 14 February 2008 - 01:10 PM

Now you've done it.  Now I have to have one.  I always liked these so much better than the burgers.

Just so happens I'll be passing a Mickey D's with a drive through enroute to pick up a package at the UPS depot on my way to work this afternoon.  I'll report back.

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:smile: I had to go to McDonald's yesterday for a Filet-O-Fish after reading Holly's informative post and other's musings.

I always liked them but hadn't had one in a long time. It was good! I like the tartar sauce and the amount they put on; I think it would be too dry otherwise. The fish was not dry and the fish filet was not greasy. I'm not sure if they "engineer" it somehow, but the filet appeared to have a nice "flakey" fish texture. That is, the fish appeared to "flake" like real fish and was not a solid artificial mass. Again, I"m not sure if this is due to some brillant reconstitution scheme. In any case, it was quite good!
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#24 blue_dolphin

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Posted 14 February 2008 - 02:04 PM

A few questions for anyone now working in a McDonald's or who has worked in one within the fast few years.

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I worked at Mickey D's in the late 70s, which was certainly a "fast few years" ago :biggrin: !

3.  Does the tartar sauce arrive at the McDonald's totally premixed or is the process similar to the old way - mayonnaise base, relish, fresh chopped onion combined and prepared daily?

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I don't know what's current, but during the time I worked there, they went from mixing up the tartar sauce fresh daily to opening a big can and manually re-filling the "caulking-gun" tubes each day to getting the sauce as pre-filled, disposable tubes ready for loading in the guns.

#25 Chris Amirault

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Posted 14 February 2008 - 03:14 PM

A few questions for anyone now working in a McDonald's or who has worked in one within the fast few years.

1.  Does McDonald's prefry and hold the fish filets in a universal holding cabinet like they do their burgers?  Or, are they still batch fried as needed?

2.  Is McDonald's still steaming the buns or are they toasted or caramelized?

3.  Does the tartar sauce arrive at the McDonald's totally premixed or is the process similar to the old way - mayonnaise base, relish, fresh chopped onion combined and prepared daily?

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Holly, I live half a block from a McDonalds, so I'll stop by soon and get the answers to these crucial questions.

ETA: This is the first time that I have thought of the geographic fact in bold as a positive aspect of my existence.

Edited by chrisamirault, 14 February 2008 - 03:15 PM.

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#26 docsconz

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Posted 14 February 2008 - 03:20 PM

Holly, I live half a block from a McDonalds, so I'll stop by soon and get the answers to these crucial questions.

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Who doesn't? :raz: :laugh:
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#27 Chris Amirault

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Posted 14 February 2008 - 03:25 PM

A most excellent point, sir.
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#28 jsmeeker

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Posted 14 February 2008 - 03:25 PM



Holly, I live half a block from a McDonalds, so I'll stop by soon and get the answers to these crucial questions.

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Who doesn't? :raz: :laugh:

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Do you have a Starbucks across the street from said McDonalds?


I do.. :cool:

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#29 Busboy

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Posted 14 February 2008 - 04:25 PM

I'm not a fan of tartar sauce.  Should I order one sans sauce to try it out?  If I could get cocktail sauce on it instead, I would be all set.

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What's the point? You gotta have the true experience or none at all.

I join those now suddenly craving deep fat fried fish.
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#30 kbjesq

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Posted 14 February 2008 - 04:55 PM

I join those now suddenly craving deep fat fried fish.

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To quote docsconz, "Who doesn't?"

I personally prefer the Burger King "Big Fish" f/k/a "The Whaler" to the Filet-o-Fish (at least the regular Filet-o-Fish, the Deluxe Filet-o-Fish - with lettuce and a better bun - wasn't bad).

Interesting factoid, according to Wikipedia, is that in non-English speaking countries, the Filet-o-Fish is called FishMac, McFish or Fish Filet. I am skeptical, however, of the Wikipedia claim that a Filet-o-Fish or McFish or whatever has only 400 calories. Every one that I've ever been served always had at least 400 calories of "tartar sauce" on board.

FWIW, the Wikipedia site states that "The Filet-O-Fish contains a breaded fish patty made mostly from pollock and/or hoki[citation needed], half a slice of processed cheese and tartar sauce, on a steamed bun."

I think another name for "Hoki" is whiting, if so, I'm not surprised that it has replaced cod in the Filet-o-fish.