When I was a pre-teen, one of my favorite things to eat was a McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish.
Hey, don’t judge. I was very young.
(And why the heck the French term for “fillet” is used for this fast-food item is anyone’s guess.)
There was just something so comforting about that squishy bun that held a golden square of fried fish smothered in tangy tartar sauce.
I even remember how my best friend and I, chilled to the bone as we hoofed it to the mall one blustery, foggy, Saturday afternoon, decided to make a pit-stop at Mickey D’s to get a a fish sandwich to-go. As we continued our trudge in wind and cold (OK, no knee-deep snow), we alternated bites of the sandwich between the two of us. And darned if its warmth didn’t fill us with the fortitude necessary to brave the sales racks at the stores.
Older, wiser, and hopefully making more healthful food choices now, I don’t even remember the last time I ate one of those sandwiches.
But thanks to Martha Stewart, I can now partake of a much better version of it.
Yes, consider this a home-made version a Fillet-O-Fish with a bona fide Martha seal of approval.
“New England Fish Sandwiches” is from her new cookbook, “Martha Stewart’s Grilling: 125+ Recipes for Gatherings Large and Small” (Clarkson Potter), of which I received a review copy.
There are recipes ideal for both weeknight meals or casual entertaining, including “Buttermilk-and-Rosemary Brined Chicken,” “Shrimp with Cilantro, Lime, and Peanuts,” “Grilled Ratatouille and Bulgur Salad,” and “Grilled Stone-Fruit Fool.”
The fish in this sandwich is grilled rather than deep-fried, so it’s more delicate tasting and shaves off a few calories. I used red snapper, but feel free to use any type of mild, white-fleshed fish that won’t fall apart on the grill.
Shredded green cabbage gets salted for 20 minutes to extract some of its moisture and leave it kind of pickled. It forms the basis of the slaw, along with sliced celery, sweet onion slivers, red wine vinegar, and a little mayo. It gets its oomph from caraway seeds, which has a taste that reminds me of rye bread. I actually added a dash more caraway seeds than called for, because I liked its flavor so much, so I added that in the recipe.
You definitely want soft bread for this sandwich, so that it cups the soft fish and generous mound of slaw piled on top, making it easier to eat. Save the hefty pretzel buns for something else. Instead, go for tender brioche, which has such a lovely butteriness that enhances the mild fish.
The fish also can be cooked on a grill pan or saute pan on top of the stove, or even under the broiler. That means you can enjoy this sandwich any time of year.
Sink your teeth into it, and be transported — perhaps to a beloved taste of years gone by.
New England Fish Sandwiches
(Makes 4 sandwiches)
4 cups shredded green cabbage (from 1/4 head cabbage)
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
1 sweet onion, such as Vidalia or Walla Walla, thinly sliced into rounds
3 tablespoons mayonnaise, plus more for bread (optional)
1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds or more to taste
Vegetable oil for grilling and brushing
4 skinless striped bass or other firm-fleshed fillets (each 4 to 6 ounces)
8 thick slices sandwich bread, such as brioche or country-style white
Toss cabbage with 2 teaspoons salt in a medium bowl; let stand 20 minutes, then press between clean kitchen towels to remove excess liquid. Toss cabbage in a clean medium bowl with celery, half the onion, the mayonnaise, vinegar, and caraway; season with pepper.
Heat grill to medium-high. Lightly oil grates. Pat fish dry with paper towels. Season with salt and pepper, and brush with oil. Grill fish on one side until it is opaque at edges and can be easily turned, 2 to 4 minutes. Turn fish and continue cooking until opaque throughout, 1 to 4 minutes more, depending on thickness. Transfer to a plate.
Grill bread until lightly toasted, 5 to 10 seconds per side. Spread bread with mayonnaise, if desired, and sandwich fish with remaining onion and a generous amount of cabbage slaw.
Adapted from “Martha Stewart’s Grilling” from the Kitchens of Martha Stewart Living
More Sandwiches to Enjoy: Chickpea Panini