If you think that making a healthier fish fillet sandwich at home is an impossible task, think again. This fried fish sandwich with homemade tartar sauce is golden brown and ready to serve in under 30 minutes, and it’s so good that it puts McDonald’s filet-o-fish to shame.
It’s wasn’t very often that I ate fast food as a kid so my first memory of eating at McDonald’s made quite the impression. Surprisingly, it was my grandma Mary Jane—who was a make-it-from-scratch kind of cook and always made sure I ate all my vegetables—who first introduced me to the fast food chain. Yes mom, she DID take me there!
But that day, and every trip to Mickey D’s after that, it wasn’t burgers that we ordered. It was always the filet-o-fish. Apparently I’m not alone.
Ever since, I’ve had a love for the simplicity of that fried fish sandwich: A simple fish patty with a dollop of tartar sauce and a slice of melty cheese sandwiched between soft and warmed top and bottom buns. Of course I always had to request extra pickles on mine because some things just never change.
So it wasn’t much of a surprise that while grazing through the gorgeously photographed and totally creative new cookbook Modern Comfort Cooking from my friend Lauren Grier of the food blog Climbing Grier Mountain, my perusing came immediately to a halt when I spied her recipe for Halibut Filet o’ Fish Sliders, a perfect recipe to serve for a crowd.
And that’s how Lauren helped cure my fish sandwich cravings by delivering a totally delicious recipe we’ll definitely be making time and time again.
How to Make a Fried Fish Sandwich That Feels Almost Healthy
Usually when I’m given the choice of going grilled, baked, or fried, 98% of the time the healthier baked and grilled routes are the ones I take. But just like every rule, there are exceptions, and that’s why I always prefer fried fish for my tacos and will once in a while splurge on fried chicken, Because hey, this girls still gotta live.
The methods Lauren provides in making this recipe make me feel totally okay that this fish is fried.
First, there’s no cloyingly heavy batter here. Instead, we use a lighter mixture of panko bread crumbs and finely crushed un-salted Saltine crackers. Un-salted Saltines? Now that’s an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one. The panko breading adheres to the fish thanks to a quick dip in buttermilk, tenderizing the fish while still keeping things light. And because breadcrumbs allow more evaporation to occur, the fish stays crispy longer, where battered foods that keep all the moisture in, get soggy faster.
The second method that keeps things healthy-ish is the fish is cooked quickly in 350°F oil. Each side of fish takes only 2-3 minutes to cook and spends less time in the oil so the fish doesn’t absorb that much of it. I use grapeseed oil due to it’s high smoke point, making it ideal for frying and a sandwich that takes just minutes to make. Be sure to test the internal temperature of your fish fillets for doneness at 145°F and the fish is flaky and opaque.
Once the fish is cooked, place it on a rack placed in a baking sheet rather than paper towels. This allows air to circulate all the way around, keeping your fish crispy on all sides.
The other key ingredients to make this fish sandwich swimmingly sublime are:
- A super soft, buttery brioche bun that’s been warmed on a tray in the toaster oven so the top of the bun stays soft, or you could microwave it for 15-20 seconds instead. (*note: Lauren’s original recipe made these sandwiches as sliders, but I had a hard time finding brioche slider buns so I simply used the regular sized bun and made just three sandwiches instead of 4 sliders.)
- A thin slice of American or cheddar cheese, melted on the bottom bun.
- Tartar sauce made with sweet relish for that tangy zip. Use Greek yogurt instead of mayo and lighten the whole load even more.
- Slices of sour dill pickles. Always more pickles. That’s my big twist on Lauren’s original recipe.
- If you’re really trying to up your fish sandwich game, sliced tomato, red onion and shredded lettuce could certainly be added too.
Best Fish for a Fish Sandwich
Overall, any skinless, mild white fish will do. The halibut I used here is at the top of my price point and the quality proves why, but a more budget-friendly cod or grouper would definitely be my next choice.
What Goes Well with a Fish Sandwich?
Anything you’d serve with burgers or at a barbecue will make this fish sandwich a whole meal, and of course, you can never rule out good old potato chips or french fries on the side.
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Healthy-ish Fried Fish Sandwich
Yield 3 regular bun size sandwiches or 4 sliders
Finely ground unsalted Saltine crackers with panko bread crumbs provide the crunch for these easy to make fried fish fillets. The original recipe called for twice the amount of ingredients for the buttermilk and the saltine mixture and we had a lot left over so I've cut those amounts to what is listed here.To grind the crackers, place them in a zippered gallon bag, release all of the air, close, and use a rolling pin to gently crush the crumbs into a fine meal.
- For the Tartar Sauce
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon sweet pickle relish (or sweet onion relish)
- 1 tablespoon minced onion (yellow or green onion)
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- For the Fish Sandwiches
- 2 6-8-ounce skinless, boneless halibut filets (if making sliders use 4 3-ounce halibut fillets)
- 1 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup finely-crushed, unsalted, saltine crackers
- 1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
- 1/2 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning
- Grapeseed or canola oil for frying
- 3 brioche buns (or 4 slider buns)
- Cheddar cheese slices
- Dill pickle slices
- For the Tartar Sauce
- In a medium bowl, combine the mayonnaise, sweet relish, onion, lemon juice, kosher salt and pepper. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes for flavors to combine.
- For the Fish Sandwiches
- Cut the fish fillets into 3-4 ounce pieces. Squeeze the lemon juice over the fish fillets. Combine the buttermilk, salt and pepper in a shallow bowl. On a large plate, toss together the crushed saltine crackers, panko bread crumbs and Old Bay seasoning.
- In a large Dutch oven, heat 2 inches of oil until a deep-fry or candy thermometer reads 350°F. One at a time, dip a piece of fish in the buttermilk, shake off any excess and dip into the saltine mixture and set on another plate or small baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the fish pieces. Place a few of the fish pieces in the oil being careful not to overcrowd the pot. Fry for 2 minutes, or if the fillets are taller than the oil, fry for 2 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Use tongs to transfer the fish to a wire rack placed over a baking sheet or something similar to catch any dripping oil and quickly season with a sprinkling of kosher salt while the fish is still hot.
- While the fish is cooking, preheat the broiler or a toaster oven. Place the tops and bottoms of the brioche buns on a baking sheet and place a slice of cheese on each of the bottom buns. Broil for 2-3 minutes or until the cheese has slightly melted and the buns are warm and toasty.
- To assemble the sandwiches, top the bottom bun with the melted cheese with pickle slices, the halibut, and spread the top bun with tartar sauce and top your sandwich.
Purchase your own copy of Modern Comfort Cooking for 80+ recipes loaded with international flavors like French Onion Udon Noodle Soup, Indian Spiced Fried Chicken Drumsticks with Ginger Honey, Banh Mi Breakfast Tacos and Korean Pulled Pork Lasagna.
Visit Lauren and her food blog at Climbing Grier Mountain.
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