published Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

Side Orders: New fish sammies sink and swim

What is it about pieces of cod and pollock that have been reeled into fast-food restaurants lately? Arby's has a fish sandwich; Wendy's has one, too. And who ever thought that Krystal would jump into the fish business? But it, too, has recently introduced its little fish sandwich.

If you've seen it, there's no way you can forget Hardee's ad with a scantily clad model eating one of its new grilled fish sandwiches on the beach. Burger King's fish sandwich, the Big Fish, has been out for a while. And McDonald's, long known for its Filet-O-Fish, now offers fish bites.

What gives with these bastions of the burger business?

As a longtime fan of fish sandwiches, I set out to do a taste test of all of them.

Arby's: A piece of Alaskan pollock is breaded and fried, then served on a sesame-seed bun with lettuce and tartar sauce. I liked that only a little tartar sauce was used, and it complemented the flavor of the fish rather than covering it up. The breading was light, which also let the flavor of the fish come through. I would have preferred a solid piece of lettuce rather than shredded, though. Would I buy it again? For the taste, yes. But no, because it has 570 calories and 25 fat grams.

Burger King: The fish makes the sandwich, but so does the bread, which I found to be the best of all the fish sandwiches I tried. It's served on an artisan-style bun that's dusted with some kind of topping, possibly cornmeal? The fish, a filet of Alaskan pollock, is lightly fried and has just the right amount of crispness. The tartar sauce is tangy, but doesn't overwhelm the good, mild fish flavor. All in all, this ranks at the top of my list, even though it has a king-size 590 calories and 31 grams fat. If you're watching your weight, cut it in half and share it with a friend.

Hardee's: With just 400 calories, the new grilled cod fish is outstanding. I would have preferred a sesame-seed bun or some kind of artisan bread rather than just a plain bun, but that may have jacked up the calories. The fish appears to have some kind of seasoning and, with its grill marks, it looks like it's been grilled, but it isn't. It's charbroiled. I'll be getting back to this. (Now, if eating one would just give me that model's body on the commercial. After eating all the fried fish I've had in the past couple of weeks, I desperately need it.) Hardee's also has a fried fish sandwich, so I ordered one for comparison to other fried fish sandwiches. The huge amount of tartar sauce immediately turned me off, as did the piece of lettuce which was pitiful after being drowned in the sauce. However, the little piece of fried fish not covered in tartar sauce was actually quite good. The sandwich comes with a slice of cheese, as well, which makes it different from some of the others.

Krystal: Its new fish sandwich is a minnow in a sea of whales, but what it lacks in size, it makes up in taste. The bun is the same as you'll find on the famous little burgers -- steamed and fresh. The size fits in your hand perfectly and is very easy to eat. The fish itself, a square filet of pollock, retained its crispiness in spite of the steamed bun. Mine was a little heavy on the tartar sauce, but other than that, I found it to be an excellent diversion from a hamburger. I reached out to Krystal's online email, asking for nutrition information, but never heard back, and it's not listed on their website. But surely, the calorie count couldn't be as high as others, I mean, it's half the size.

McDonald's: The new Fish McBites are the leanest of all, with 380 calories and 23 grams of fat for a regular-sized serving of the pollock pieces, but you're not getting any bread and that doesn't include the 140 calories and 15 grams of fat you'll add if you dip those bites into tartar sauce. They're really nothing more than an abbreviated fish stick, but they're something different from a Chicken McNugget, so they make for a nice change. I liked them even better when I got home and dunked them in cocktail sauce. Fewer calories that way, too.

Wendy's: On a plain bun with a square piece of fried cod, lots of tartar sauce and a piece of wilted lettuce, this sandwich leaves me lacking. Although, at 510 calories, it is the least fattening of all the fried sandwiches, but it does have 26 grams of fat.


As long as we're on the subject of fried foods, what about potato chips? I'm as guilty as any potato-chip lover about sitting down and wanting to eat a bagful. They're simply too hard to resist. And I've always been told my homemade potato chips are the best anyone's ever tasted. They're simple to make. I just slice potatoes extremely thin on my meat cutter, put them in ice water while the peanut oil in my electric turkey fryer heats up, then fry the slices for about four minutes in small batches at a time. When done, they're poured out onto paper towels and sprinkled with salt, allowed to cool and placed in resealable bags. Done.

And I feel they must be healthier than chips I get in stores. No additives other than salt. But they're still fattening because they're fried.

But now there's a much more healthful way to prepare them. Ronco's new Chip-tastic costs $19.99 at buychiptastic.com, and looks kind of like a hard plastic Slinky. You put the potato slices between the "coils," then place the whole thing in the microwave to cook. No oil. So very few calories. And it saves from using up the peanut oil, which is quite expensive.

But keep in mind, if you don't like baked chips, you're not going to like these. But I do, particularly because each chip averages just 3 calories, compared to around 15 for a regular chip. And they're even tastier dipped in a little fat-free ranch dressing.

The Chip-tastic comes with its own slicer and recipe book for seasoning the chips in a number of ways. It will also instruct you on how to make fruit chips from apples and pears.

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