Consider the fish sandwich. Typically, fish for sandwiches is fried (oyster po’ boys), mixed into a salad (tuna on rye), or compressed into squares prior to being fried (filet-o-fish). While we eat too much meat and fried stuff, seafood does, in fact, present a textural challenge when it comes to the sandwich.
Think of a sandwich as a battlefield in which all the elements fight for distinction. The sandwich maker’s role is peace broker; to harmonize the parties so that each balances the other. Bread, spread, veg, central ingredient: they all have to mesh, or the dish fails.
Fish is tough, as it’s usually soft and flaky and thereby no match for bread or anything else. Hence the proliferation of crunchy fried fish sandwiches. But then the sandwich becomes all about the fried fish; you may as well subtract the bread and eat a bowl of crunchy crispy seafood.
However, what happens if you reverse the crisping process: pan-fry (rather than deep-fry) the fish, and lightly toast the bread? Both are equally crunchy though still soft, making for a nice, harmonious bite. Allowing us to move on to the other stuff between the bread, which is what caught my eye about the Momofuku recipe in the latest Art Culinaire.
I read the recipe for the snow pea slaw and knew it would be good. It’s a simple alternative to cole slaw, and also (obviously) green, which brightens the dish, a very important factor when building a fish sandwich. The slaw is crunchy and, as opposed to, say, a Romaine leaf, actually tastes like something. Top it all off with melted butter and you’ve got a pretty good fish sandwich.
We used catfish because it’s firm and easy to pan-fry. That’s right, pan-fry with a little olive oil, not deep-fry. Other white fish, like cod, hake, mackerel, trout, or bass, would be great. It’s hard to resist eating that catfish, smoking hot and crisp in the pan, but keep your eye on the ball, we’re on a larger mission: to bring back the fish sandwich.
Catfish Sandwich w/ Snow Pea Slaw (adapted from Momofuku via Art Culinaire)
1 pound snow peas, julienned
¼ cup sour cream or crème fraiche
1 tablespoon mustard
juice of ½ a lemon
2 catfish fillets, about 10 oz each
2 sprigs rosemary
1 cup olive oil
8 slices country bread, sliced ½ inch thick brushed with melted butter
salt and pepper
- In a bowl whisk the sour cream, mustard, and lemon juice. Toss in the snow peas, season with salt and pepper and refrigerate.
- Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium high. Season the fillets on both sides with salt and pepper. When the oil is nearly smoking hot, slip in the fish gently. Cook without moving until crisp and golden, a few minutes. Flip, toss in the rosemary and repeat. Remove to a tray or cutting board.
- Toast the bread until lightly colored.
- To assemble the sandwich: top bread with about ½ a fillet each then a mound of sprouts, close, and eat.