Popeyes scores big with our would-be foodwriter for its Cajun fish sandwich. CNS photos/Bob Roller

Meatless Fridays: A deep dive into the pool of fast-food fish this Lent

By  Mark Pattison, Catholic News Service
  • March 7, 2019

WASHINGTON – Man does not live on bread alone. But on the Fridays of Lent, he’d better not add meat to the menu.

To help Catholics observe Lenten abstinence rules, any fast-food restaurant worth its salt — and sodium is in abundance at those places — offers a fish sandwich on its menu, and starts airing TV commercials for them.

So what is the fish sandwich landscape like? I decided to find out. I tried to keep the rules simple. The sandwich had to come from a fast-foodery with a national profile, but within reasonable drive. And I had to be able to stand up to order it and sit down — even if it’s in my car — to eat it. Further, no tuna subs and the like; the fish has to be cooked. Also, no fries or other menu items. I saw the documentary Supersize Me, and don’t want that to happen to me. The only accompaniment was a bottle of water to wash it down.

Some may consider this odyssey as an advance Lenten penance.

Here’s what I found. Sandwiches are listed in order of preference. Your results may vary. 

(Editor's note: While the writer’s food tour was limited to south of the border, we’ve included here the items — or reasonable facsimilies — that are also available at Canadian restaurants, though some only make special appearances during Lent).

Popeyes Cajun Fish Sandwich

Who knew that the first sandwich I tested would be the best? But it’s also the most, er, meaty, with three filets plus the nub of a fourth on something resembling a hoagie roll. It’s substantial, that’s for sure, and fairly tasty, too. Adorned only with lettuce and a not-that-spicy form of mayo. (460 calories)

Popeyes Shrimp Sandwich

I may have been spoiled by its Cajun Fish sandwich, but this wasn’t quite as terrific. It’s still heads and fins above the rest, though. Too many popcorn shrimp to count, unless you let all of them fall outside the bun. While flavourful, there’s not as much spice as in the Cajun Fish offering, and it costs more. (680 calories)

Arby’s Crispy Fish Sandwich

“We have the meats,” proclaims Arby’s motto. Well, they’ve got the fish, too, which I wouldn’t have known unless I paid attention to the TV ad. In the ad, the fish looks longer than the bun. In reality, it’s true — but the fish isn’t as deep as the bun, either. The crispy fish version wins by a fair margin. Its crispiness is genuine, and it feels good in your mouth, and goes down satisfyingly. (570 calories)

McDonald’s Double Filet-O-Fish

If one fish filet is good, shouldn’t two be better? Here, the answer is yes. And for just a buck more than the original Filet-O-Fish. There is plenty of tartar sauce on this sandwich — so much so that it got on the outside of both buns. But it’s a satisfying sink-your-teeth-into taste. It all depends on whether you want to practice thrift by getting twice as much fish for far less than twice the cost, or practice economy and self-abnegation by sticking with the original. (540 calories)

McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish

Once considered the gold standard, the original Filet-O-Fish is still better than its square-patty brethren elsewhere. But it’s been surpassed by many other fast-food joints’ entries, as evidenced here. If a second fish patty still nets McDonald’s a profit at just one dollar more, then why are we paying more than three bucks for a bun, a slice of American cheese and a gob of tartar sauce? (379 calories)

Wendy’s North Pacific Cod Sandwich

Cod was the fish of choice for the Booster Club’s weekly Lenten fish fries at my boyhood parish. I don’t know if it came from the North Pacific; all I know is that it came in a box, frozen. Wendy’s version, a seasonal item in my neck of the woods, isn’t all I thought it would be. The cod has flavour, but not a lot. There’s one big leaf of iceberg lettuce instead of shredded lettuce, and mayo (or a mayolike substance) on the inside of one bun. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which has pushed a Wendy’s boycott since 2016 for not signing a pledge that promotes tomato pickers, may be pleased to know there’s no tomato in this sandwich. (440 calories)

Burger King Big Fish Sandwich

Gone is the Whaler, the alliterative seafood companion to the Whopper — maybe because BK didn’t want anyone to think they were eating a whale. But if you ate this a day after eating the Popeyes fish sandwich like I did, you’d blubber, too. About the only thing this does well is put one square slab of fish between two round buns. A little smear of mayo or tartar sauce on both sides to keep the lettuce from falling off. Unremarkable, and disappointing given the price. (510 calories)

Anyone thinking these reviews are tongue-in-cheek, well, they’re right. How else are you going to chew and swallow?


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Unlike many other news websites, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our site. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

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