It really doesn’t get much better than a fresh seafood sandwich during summer. From shrimp and lobster rolls to grilled mahi 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.
New England Split-Top Buns, $29.99 on Amazon
For lobster roll purists.
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.
Take a look at this shrimp po’ boy 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.
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.
Think about the texture of your seafood—and the way you plan to cook it—plus any toppings you’ll be adding and choose a bread that both complements and supports the other components.
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 incorporate. 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.
Related Reading on CNET: The Best Online Seafood Delivery Services for 2020
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!
For lobster, your best bet is to steam it—but you can totally grill lobster too for a smoky layer of flavor. And then you can dress it in more than just the usual ways. This classic lobster roll recipe is everything you’d expect from a New England lobster roll: big chunks of sweet meat shoved into a split bun with just enough mayo and very little else.
However, lobster goes with plenty of flavors besides plain mayo and a smattering of celery. This spicy lobster roll recipe includes Sriracha, black pepper, and parsley to give a kick to tradition. And for those who prefer simple butter and lemon, try this mayo-free lobster roll recipe.
Even if you go a little wild with the flavors of your lobster roll, in general, the fewer the toppings the better; it’s usually the most expensive seafood option anyway, so you want to let it shine. Other types of seafood sandwich can benefit from a bit more garnish, though.
Sure, shrimp 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 or fried shrimp. 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 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 fried fish sandwich with pepper slaw (as in, jalapeños and poblanos), or this crispy fish sandwich with pineapple slaw.
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 fillet. 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.
Kumana Avocado Sauce (pack of 3), $27.50 on Amazon
Add some avocado hot sauce to your fish sandwich for a change.
Of course, if you’re having a lobster roll or crab salad sandwich, the sauce is built in. But you can level up even the simplest creation by making your own mayo:
Header image by Chowhound.