It really doesn’t get much better than a fresh seafood sandwich during summer. From shrimp and lobster rolls to grilled Mahi and fried tilapia there are countless types of fish and seafood to use and even more ways to dress up a seafood sandwich sometimes it’s hard to settle on one. There are a few basics to know going in, some cardinal rules of seafood sandwich-making that will help nail the balance of flavor, overall consistency (a.k.a. avoiding mush) and deliver the best possible seafood sammy at home. So let’s break down all the components—from the bread to the fish and everything in between. By the time you get through this article, you’ll be a seafood sandwich expert (one of the best kinds of an expert to be).
You can’t have a sandwich without bread, and yet a lot of people forget that it’s just as important to pick the best possible bread for your seafood sandwich as it is to pick the perfect fish. Fish sandwiches tend to be a little heavier than the typical ham or turkey, so you need to pick a bread that can support the fish, as well as anything else you choose to put on your sandwich. You’ll notice that the most popular fish sandwiches—like lobster rolls and po’ boys—are served on a thick split bun or baguette. This is, first and foremost, so the sandwich doesn’t fall apart, but an added bonus is that thicker bread absorbs the sauces and flavors of your sandwich. But let’s say a roll or baguette isn’t your best choice of bread. Maybe you’re making a sandwich with crabmeat or white fish, where a roll would be too overpowering. Sliced bread like white or brioche is acceptable, but I’d recommend toasting it so the bread doesn’t completely fall apart under the weight of the sandwich.
ChowhoundTake a look at this shrimp po’ boys recipe. You’ll notice that it calls for hoagie buns, because this is a hefty sandwich with breaded shrimp, slaw, and sauce. This is the best possible bread for this sandwich. First of all, everything fits on the bread, so it’ll stay intact, but a soft hoagie will also soak up the flavor from the slaw.
Related Reading: 8 Gluten-Free Breads That Are Worthy of Any Sandwich
On the other hand, take this spicy crab club sandwich recipe. Since the crab meat is a little lighter and the sandwich is much smaller than a po’ boy, the recipe calls for white toast. This way, the sandwich won’t fall apart, but the crab meat is still the star of the meal.
This is the most important part of a seafood sandwich, overall. There are a lot of different fish that work perfectly for a sandwich, but the trick is to find a fish that has a mild flavor and blends well with any other flavors you may want to incpororate. My personal favorites are lobster and crab, shrimp, and any white fish (like cod, tilapia, or catfish). These are easy flavors that complement any seasonings and sauces you desire; you can go with a spicy Southwestern sandwich or use sweet Asian flavors to bring out the natural flavor in shrimp or tilapia. Also, white fish and shrimp especially are amazing no matter how you cook them, so you could even experiment with the texture of your sandwich by frying, baking, or grilling your fish.
Here’s what I mean when I talk about the versatility of flavors and textures in these fish. Take this classic lobster roll recipe. The sandwich is everything you’d expect from a New England lobster roll: a pound of lobster meat shoved into a split bun and drenched in butter sauce and lemon juice. However, lobster goes with plenty of flavors besides butter and lemon. This recipe includes Sriracha, black pepper, and parsley to put a spicier twist on the classic lobster roll.
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You can play with textures, too. This cod sandwich recipe calls for a beer-battered and fried cod (but halibut or haddock works too). Not only will the batter create an extra layer of flavor in the sandwich, but frying the cod makes for a thicker, crispier sandwich. Or go for a much lighter sandwich by baking your fish instead of coating and frying it, like in this Cajun-style tilapia sandwich recipe. The fish is coated in spices and mayo, so you’re definitely not risking flavor by going for a lighter sandwich!
Sure, lobster or crab is great with some lemon juice on top, and bacon, lettuce, and tomato makes the perfect club sandwich out of any fish, but normal is boring. One topping that can’t go wrong on a fish sandwich is slaw. Since it lends itself well to a wide range of sauces and flavors, a slaw is a perfect complement to a heavier fish. You can also flavor the slaw around how you’re preparing the rest of the sandwich. For example, if you’ve beer-battered and fried a cod filet, you may want to use a slaw with some Dijon mustard to go with the beer flavor. Or if you’re going the Cajun shrimp route, you may consider a spicier jalapeño slaw (pictured below) to give the sandwich an extra kick.
Here’s a very basic fish sandwich recipe—no crazy flavors, no wild prep techniques. Use this just for a basic idea of how to start a slaw. Then you can get creative! Add sauces, spices, different veggies, or anything you may need to perfect your version of the seafood sandwich. Take, for example, this sandwich with pepper slaw or this one with pineapple slaw.
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Finally, we get to the last thing you throw on before closing your sandwich: the sauce. I am a firm believer that a sauce can absolutely make or break your sandwich. If you don’t have enough sauce, your sandwich is dry. If there’s too much, you miss the flavor of the fish. If you use the wrong flavors, the whole sandwich is a bust. Some safe bets are tartar sauce, mayo, Sriracha, and Dijon mustard. But you can get creative with any of those! Add crab meat to mayo to heighten the flavor of a shrimp sandwich, or make a pesto to add an earthy flavor to your fish filet. A lemon basil mayo will add both a creaminess and a zest to the sandwich. On the other hand, the pickle and Worcestershire sauce in this fish sandwich sauce creates a tang that perfectly complements more mild white fish flavors.
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