Fried catfish was one of the best sellers at my former restaurant, Millie Peartree Fish Fry and Soul Food, in the Bronx. There, we cut the fish into long, finger-like strips before frying. But for this po’ boy, the catfish is chopped into nuggets so as many can be packed in as possible. Some will fall out, and that’s fine; I like to call those pieces a little something extra, and run them through some remoulade.
Catfish po’ boys are perfect for sharing and celebrating togetherness, especially around my favorite holiday, Juneteenth. The foods of Juneteenth celebrate freedom and honor ancestors, and there is nothing better than serving up delicious dishes that commemorate the day. This po’ boy comes with a holiday-appropriate twist: a coleslaw reddened by hibiscus, a flower whose red color symbolizes the blood shed by our ancestors. The bracing tartness of the hibiscus lends a bright contrast to both the slaw’s creamy crunch and the catfish, which is marinated briefly in Old Bay-spiked buttermilk before being tossed with cornmeal and deep-fried until it’s golden and extra-crispy.
This is a sandwich that’s best served hot. Don’t forget the tomatoes, pickles, and hot sauce, and an extra smear of remoulade to create a bite without equal.
Catfish Po’ Boy With Hibiscus Coleslaw Recipe
For the catfish marinade:
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon yellow or Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon Old Bay or other seafood seasoning
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 pounds catfish filets, cut lengthwise and crosswise into 2-inch nuggets
For the remoulade:
2 tablespoons mustard, preferably Creole mustard
1 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
2 tablespoons sweet pickled relish
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon hot sauce (such as Crystal or Tabasco)
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
For the hibiscus coleslaw:
¼ cup (about 1 ounce) dried hibiscus flowers
¼-½ cup remoulade (recipe below)
2 tablespoons honey
3 cups bagged coleslaw mix
¼ cup chopped cilantro leaves
Celery salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
For dredging and frying the fish:
4 cups vegetable oil, for frying
1½ cups fine cornmeal
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon Old Bay or other seafood seasoning
For the sandwich:
4 long soft-crust French or Italian rolls, split
½ cup pickle slices
1 large tomato, cored and thinly sliced
½ small red onion, thinly sliced (optional)
Louisiana hot sauce, for serving
Lemon wedges, for serving
Make the catfish marinade:
Step 1: In a medium bowl, combine the buttermilk, mustard, Old Bay, and pepper. Add the catfish strips, turning to coat each side, and place in the refrigerator to marinate as you prepare the remoulade and coleslaw.
Make the remoulade:
Step 1: Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and stir until well combined. Set aside.
Make the coleslaw:
Step 1: In a small saucepan, combine the hibiscus flowers with 2 cups water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the flowers are tender, 20 minutes. Strain, reserving some of the hibiscus liquid. Thinly slice the flowers and set aside.
Step 2: Put ¼ cup to ½ cup of remoulade in a medium bowl. Add the honey and thin with a little hibiscus water, if necessary, to create a creamy dressing. Add the hibiscus flowers, coleslaw mix, and cilantro. Season to taste with with celery salt and pepper. Set aside.
Fry the fish:
Step 1: Remove the catfish from the refrigerator.
Step 2: Heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat in a large (12-inch) cast-iron skillet until it reaches 365 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.
Step 3: In a medium bowl or resealable plastic bag, combine the cornmeal, flour, and Old Bay. Remove the fish from the marinade and add it to the mixture, a few strips at a time, and tumble gently to coat evenly.
Step 4: Working in batches, fry the fish until golden brown, about 3 minutes, adjusting the heat to maintain 365 degrees and flipping the fish occasionally with tongs. Avoid crowding the pan, so that the fish has room to brown properly. (It should be slightly crisp outside, and moist and flaky inside.) Drain on paper towels, and hit with seafood seasoning as quickly as possible.
Assemble the po’ boys:
Step 1: Position a rack 6 inches from the oven’s broiler and set it to high.
Step 2: Arrange the rolls cut side up on a baking sheet and toast until golden brown, about 30 seconds.
Step 3: Once the rolls are cool enough to handle, smear a good helping (about 2 tablespoons) of the remoulade sauce on the bottom of each roll. Then add a layer of the pickles, tomato slices, onions, and then the catfish and coleslaw. Add a few good squeezes of fresh lemon and several dashes of hot sauce, and top with the second half of each roll. Serve immediately.
Bronx community chef Millie Peartree started cooking at a very young age, inspired by her mother and her time growing up in the southern United States. Well-known for her restaurant, she is also a successful baker and caterer and the founder of the nonprofit Full Heart Full Bellies.