In all my 38-plus years on this great spinning dirt ball of ours I've never once heard a person exclaim, "Hooray, fish nuggets!" Can McDonald's Fish McBites make that happen?
Of course not. No single corporate entity possesses that much power. The best the fast food giant can hope to achieve is assuaging the powerful wave of depression that washes over a person upon realizing fish nuggets are all they have to eat. If anyone can do that, it's Ronald McDonald and friends.
McDonald's realizes fish nuggets might not be the greatest idea it's rolled out in its storied history. That's why the company is introducing these fishy balls in select markets before going wide, with signs cautioning that they are only available for a limited time. One might say they are 'fishing' for new customers. One might also get slapped repeatedly.
The name Fish McBites is a riff (reef?) on the recently-introduced Chicken McBites. I assume that if these take off we can look forward to an entire line of McBites food-flavored product. For example, I would stand in line a whole week for Rib McBites. The product I am reviewing today would probably simply be called Fish Nuggets if not for the legal guidelines McDonald's must follow to avoid being confused for actual food.
"Poppable pieces of white, flaky Alaskan pollock" reads the Fish McBites container, proudly showcasing the fact that they've spared no expense in bringing you the cheapest form of sea life in creation. Pollock is the go-to fish for applications in which the animal must be ground up until it's completely unrecognizable in both taste and appearance—think fish sticks, fish balls and cat food. This honor used to go to Cod and Haddock, but over-fishing has caused the food industry to turn to a product they normally wouldn't feed their pets.
Pollock is often referred to as the abstract impressionist of the sea.
Pollock is a whitefish, which means a fish that doesn't taste much like fish. That's the selling point here; it doesn't taste like it should. This is a seafood-centric phenomenon; you'll never see the Beef Council advertising a new hunk of meat that doesn't have that annoying beefy flavor.
It sounds perfect for a McDonald's product.
The individual portions of Fish McBites are presented in their own little pod, a practice Burger King pioneered with their FryPod container. The pod's main feature (aside from keeping you from walking around with a fist full of fish balls) is the lip, which transforms via the twin magics of folding and perforation into the ultimate tartar sauce holder. I neglected to use this feature in the gameplay video for this review, but it wasn't necessary to finish the snack.
Nor is multiplayer, though Fish McBites does offer the feature as paid downloadable content.
My Fish McBites meal came with a box containing around 10 breaded nuggets, along with a medium french fry (hot, for once) and a medium Coca-Cola. Normally I would have a Diet Coke instead, but I figured I was already stuffing my body with crap; might-as-well go for the complete experience.
If I were to hand you a single Fish McBite, you would be delighted at first. Coated in mystery spice-speckled breading, the unit encapsulates all the wonder and mystery that has made the nugget the number one food delivery device for the past decade (as voted by an imaginary board of influential snack czars). Beyond that crumbly outer shell could be anything. Is it a sweet corn nugget? A savory chicken nugget? The key to Vector Sigma? Broccoli and cheese?
The glorious potential of the naked nugget is dashed with the slightest pressure applied to its hull. The nugget cracks wide, revealing processed seafood product separated from the breadcrumb outer shell by a thick layer of glistening grease.
Much like me, my camera could only focus on the grease inside the breading cocoon.
Depending on how often your local McDonald's changes their oil, this lubrication layer might add either a somewhat bitter taste to the fish, or an extremely bitter taste. It's the same effect you'd achieve by dipping bits of pollock in engine oil, only not quite as nutritious.
There are two important things to keep in mind when settling down to nosh on a pod of Fish McBites. First, make sure any and all felines have left the room. The species famous love for seafood-flavored edibles and their own disgusting asses makes these fish nuggets a treat so irresistible that the centuries-old peace between house cat and human means nothing.
Second, the tartar sauce is there for a reason. For centuries the people of the world have turned to this cream, tangy paste to help make briny seafood edible. It is a sensory masking agent, an invaluable tool in the battle against retching in the middle of a high-class eatery.
This glorious condiment carries an even greater responsibility when applied to the Fish McBite: adding flavor where there is none. Biting into one unaided results in a brief hint of the sea, the bitter taste of burnt grease and then nothing but texture. Texture is an important component of the snacking experience, of course, delivering what some might call sticky friction to your tongue. But friction without flavor is like force-feedback for a blank screen.
I've always been fascinated by the lengths food purveyors will travel to produce an edible product based on a material someone wouldn't normally eat. People that enjoy fish enjoy the whole fish, served on a bed of lettuce, staring at them with accusing glassy eyes. Taking that glassy-eyed dead thing, grinding it up, adding filler, and then reconstituting it seems like an awful lot of work to trick people into eating something they don't want.
Perhaps the next time McDonald's creates a new snack-sized treat it'll consider using a primary component that doesn't have to be mutilated to be edible. Or Rib McBites. Those would do in a pinch.