For obvious reason, here in South Louisiana a bánh mì sandwich is referred to as a Vietnamese po’boy. Built upon a similar French bread loaf, it doesn’t take a great stretch of imagination to see the similarities in the two sandwiches. But delving deeper, the two have even more in common than just bread. And just one taste of my fried Catfish Bánh Mì, and you’ll understand the cross-cultural connection.
Like the early French Acadians of Louisiana in the late 1700s, a century later the French came to Vietnam during the Indochine era of 1887 to 1946. The influence on the culinary culture of Southeast Asia was unmistakable as French bread baking and the introduction of cooking methods for dishes like liver pâté and even mayonnaise became intermingled with local tastes and techniques. Like the Cajun and Creole cultures of Acadiana, over time unique recipes linking the two cultures became mainstream–the bánh mì sandwich being a prime example.
Bánh mì is literally Vietnamese for bread and the use of the ubiquitous French baguette led to its current sandwich interpretation. The classic bánh mì is a combination of meat–usually pork–along with a slathering of pâté crowned with pickled vegetables and fresh herbs.
For my Cajun recipe version for a bánh mì, I’m going with a focus on catfish, an indigenous fish and common culinary ingredient of both Louisiana and Vietnam. Fried crispy golden brown, the fish is set on a bed of crunchy slaw and topped with pickled red onions, carrots, and cucumber. A slathering of spicy mayonnaise replaces the liver pâté for a more mainstream Southern taste in this Cajun recipe for a Catfish Bánh Mì. This sandwich has just the right balance of flavors. Try my Vietnamese po’boy — uh, Catfish Bánh Mì — and add some international flavor to your Acadiana table.
- ¼ cup white vinegar
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- ¼ cup sugarcane vinegar
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 2 cups shredded Napa cabbage
- 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
- 1 large carrot, peeled
- 1 cucumber, peeled
- 1 small red onion, peeled
- Pinch of salt
- 1 ½ cups mayonnaise
- 1 teaspoon ketchup
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- ½ teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon Acadiana Table Cajun Seasoning Blend, see recipe here
- 1 tablespoon sriracha sauce
- 4 6-inch French bread loaves or po-boy bread
- 8 large catfish fillets, cut into medium-sized pieces
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 gallon canola oil
- 2 cups yellow cornmeal
- ¼ cup Wondra flour
- ¼ cup rice flour
- 2 tablespoons Acadiana Table Cajun Seasoning Blend, see recipe here
- 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves or mint leaves, for garnish, optional
- In a mixing bowl, add the vinegars and honey. Stir to combine and add the cabbage. Pour off all of the vinegar mixture into another bowl. To the cabbage, add the mayonnaise and blend until incorporated. Cover the cabbage and refrigerate.
- Using a vegetable peeler, peel long, thin strips from the carrot into the bowl containing the vinegar mixture. Repeat with the cucumber. Slice the onion into thin slices and add them to the bowl as well. Add a pinch of salt to the bowl and coat all of the vegetables with the vinegar mixture. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
- In a mixing bowl, add the mayonnaise and whisk in the rest of the ingredients, combining thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate.
- Preheat the oven to 200ºF. Slice open the bread loaves through the middle lengthwise and place on a baking sheet. 20 minutes before serving, put the bread in the oven to warm.
- Coat the catfish fillets in the lemon juice and shake off any excess juice. Sprinkle the fish lightly with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
- In a large pot over medium-high heat, add the oil and bring to a temperature of 350ºF. In a mixing bowl, add the cornmeal and flours along with the seasoning. Stir to combine. Add the catfish fillets to the breading and coat. Add the catfish to the hot oil and fry until golden brown, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove to a paper towel-lined platter and lightly sprinkle with salt.
- For assembly, remove the hot French loaves from the oven and slather the inside with mayonnaise. Add a portion of slaw and then top with several pieces of fried catfish. Strain the vinegar from the pickled vegetables and add equal amounts of onion, cucumber and carrot to the sandwich. Garnish with fresh cilantro or mint if you like. Serve with more of the spicy mayonnaise and an ice-cold beer.
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