Viet-Cajun Fried Catfish Po’boy

This salty, sweet, spicy, and crisp sandwich features fried catfish with a fish sauce caramel and punchy tart pickles as a mash-up of Cajun and Vietnamese cuisines.

Viet-Cajun Style Fried Catfish Po’Boy

Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Torie Cox / Prop Styling by Josh Hoggle

Active Time:
1 hrs 35 mins
Total Time:
1 hrs 35 mins
8 sandwiches

This recipe from Top Chef fan favorite Nini Nguyen is a mashup of a classic New Orleans-Style Po’Boy and equally iconic Vietnamese Bánh Mi. Both cultures celebrate sandwiches like these, using crispy fried catfish on a crusty, light, airy roll that shatters when you take your first bite.  

In New Orleans, when you order a po’ boy, you will be asked if you want it “dressed,” which means it’s served with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayo. Here, Nguyen replaces the pickles with classic bánh mi pickles that you can make up to three days ahead of time, and gives the mayo an upgrade with an umami-rich hit of Vietnamese fish sauce. 

The catfish is fried the traditional New Orleans way, but instead of being seasoned with classic Creole seasoning, it is glazed with a salty, sweet, and spicy fish sauce caramel (be sure to glaze the catfish right before you serve the sandwiches to keep them from getting soggy). Finished with a little cilantro and hot sauce, this sandwich would be at home in both Vietnam and New Orleans.


Bơ (Vietnamese Mayonnaise) (makes about 1 cup)

  • 1 large egg yolk

  • 1 garlic clove

  • 1/2 teaspoon fish sauce

  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 2 tablespoons water, divided

  • 1 cup canola oil

Fish Sauce-Caramel Glaze (makes 3/4 cup)

  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar

  • 1/3 cup water, divided

  • 1/3 cup fish sauce

  • 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper

  • 1 lime, juiced (2 tablespoons)

Banh Mi Pickles

  • 1 (1-pound) daikon radish, cut into matchsticks (about 1 cup)

  • 1 large carrot, cut into thin strips (1/2 cup)

  • 1/2 cup white vinegar

  • 1/2 cup water

  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Sticky Fried Catfish

  • 1 cup plain dry breadcrumbs

  • 1 cup fine plain yellow cornmeal

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1/2 cup whole milk

  • 3 to 4 large eggs, beaten

  • (5-ounce) catfish fillets (thinner pieces if possible)

  • Vegetable oil

Additional Ingredients

  • 8 loaves bánh mi bread or light crusty French bread

  • 1 cup Bơ (Vietnamese Mayonnaise)

  • 4 cups shredded iceberg lettuce (from 1 head)

  • 3 to 4 medium tomatoes, sliced

  • 2 cups Bánh Mi Pickles 

  • 1 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

  • Hot sauce (such as Crystal) (optional)


Make the Bơ (Vietnamese Mayonnaise):

  1. Process egg yolk, garlic, fish sauce, salt, and 1 tablespoon of the water in a food processor until smooth, about 2 minutes. With processor running, slowly pour canola oil through food chute until mixture is blended and thick, about 1 minute. Stir in remaining 1 tablespoon water to thin out mayonnaise, if needed. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Prepare the Fish Sauce-Caramel Glaze:

  1. Place sugar and 2 tablespoons of the water in a small saucepan. Cook, undisturbed, over medium-high until sugar mixture turns an amber color, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in fish sauce, red pepper, and remaining 3 1/3 tablespoons of the water. (Mixture will seize but that’s okay.) Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high, whisking or stirring to break up sugar. (To make sure it is a glaze consistency, dip a metal spoon into sauce; carefully run your finger on back of spoon to make a line in the sauce. If line holds on the spoon, your glaze is done. If line is runny, continue to boil for a few more minutes.) Remove from heat, and let cool, about 1 hour. Whisk in lime juice.

Prepare the Bánh Mi Pickles:

  1. Place radish and carrot in a medium heatproof bowl. Bring vinegar, water, sugar, and salt to a boil over high, stirring until sugar is dissolved, about 2 minutes. Pour hot vinegar mixture over radish-carrot mixture, and let cool, about 1 hour. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Prepare the Sticky Fried Catfish:

  1. Whisk together breadcrumbs, cornmeal, flour, and salt in a large bowl; set aside. In a shallow bowl or pie plate, whisk together milk and eggs. Working in batches, dust catfish fillets with additional flour, and dredge in milk mixture, coating mixture evenly; dredge in breadcrumb mixture. Place dredged catfish on a plate or tray, and let stand for 5 minutes.

  2. Pour oil into a large Dutch oven to a depth of 2 inches; heat over medium-high to 360°F. Fry fish, in 3 batches, until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer fish to a paper towel-lined baking pan.

  3. Toast bread loaves, and cut each loaf in half lengthwise. Spread Bơ on both sides of bread loaves. Brush both sides of Sticky Fried Catfish with Fish Sauce-Caramel Glaze. Place catfish on prepared bread loaves. Top evenly with lettuce, tomatoes, Banh Mi Pickles, cilantro, and a couple of dashes of hot sauce (if using).

To Make Ahead

Pickles, aioli, and glaze may be made up to 3 days in advance and stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

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