Growing up Catholic, I always thought Lent was exclusive to that denomination but have since realized that it is quite widespread, and probably why restaurant marketers have embraced it over the years to promote seafood Fridays. For me as a kid, Fridays during lent meant Filet-O-Fish at McDonalds and a fish fry and the local VFW or similar. Both of those hardly seemed like I was giving up anything as they were equally delicious to my unrefined palate. Actually, even to this day I am have no problem indulging in a fast food fish sandwich and consider a fish fry a desirable culinary event. Nothing like a bunch of perch fried up crispy with a plate of fries and a cold, non-craft beer.
But back to the fast food fish sandwich, more specifically the one that started it all, the Filet-O-Fish. The story of how the McDonalds fish sandwich came to be is actually kind of interesting. In 1962 a Ohio-based McDonald’s franchisee had a problem. His local clientele was predominantly Roman Catholic, which was causing his restaurant to founder mightily on Fridays and during Lent. Sympathetic to the struggles at the franchisee store, Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds, came up with a proposition. They would begin testing a new fish sandwich to help the store get through those Friday rough patches. Kroc also insisted, however, that the restaurant also test his solution. Kroc thought the answer was to feed Catholics his “Hula Burger,” a slice of grilled pineapple with cheese on a cold bun, and demanded that both items be placed on the menu. Whichever sandwich sold best would be rolled out to the nationwide menu, and would become the first non-hamburger addition to the McDonald’s menu. The Filet-O-Fish sandwich won in a landslide, saved his struggling franchise, and McDonald’s went on to sell approximately 300 million of the sandwiches per year.
Of course, all of the fast food chains have followed suit and the evolution of the fast food fish sandwich can now be found at Carl's Jr. They have taken the it to another level and latched on to the craft beer movement by creating a Red Hook battered cod sandwich. I’ve tried it and it’s not bad at all but my standby will always be the Filet-O-Fish.
Fast food aside, there is a plethora of seafood options happening in North County these days and of course sushi is always an option as well but I'll stick to the more traditional seafood joints. Pelly’s is a favorite, tucked away in a shopping center in Carlsbad they have a huge following and for good reason. It doubles as a fish market and also has tables to eat in and does a brisk carry out business. Of course you've heard me talk about Fish 101 many times and they have set the bar way high for great seafood and cool vibe. I wrote recently about the Encinitas Fish House, a relative newcomer to the scene but I was very happy with several visits there. Fish House Vera Cruz in Carlsbad and The Fish Market in Del Mar are options as well. And of course, how could I leave out the fish taco. There are as many opinions on fish tacos as there are people in San Diego buy my two favorites have always been Juanita’s in Leucadia and Rubio's. Yes, I said it…Rubio’s fish tacos are consistently good and I have no problem stating my affection for them.
Lenten fish Fridays do not have to be spent eating out. I’ll head down to Seaside Market in Cardiff and pick up a nice piece of local halibut or cod, dust it with some Cajun seasoning and poach it in a mix of butter, white wine and herbs from my garden. It's almost impossible to overcook the fish using this method but keep an eye on it regardless. I’ve found a buttery Chardonnay is a good wine to use and if you need to add a little water that’s fine. The dusting of Cajun seasoning gives the fish a little kick and added flavor. Lately I've been pairing that with farro, my new go-to grain and some fresh steamed veggies. Ladle the poaching liquid over the fish and farro and you have a moist, delicious, and healthy Lenten supper. Pair it with the buttery Chardonnay you used for poaching and you are good to go.