Friday, March 22, 2013

Club Sandwich of Pan Fried Swai, Spinach and Smoked Bacon

     Fish on a club sandwich?  Why not!

     While working at a trendy modern French cafe in Florida, I used to adapt many classic recipes to the local seafood venue.  Every Florida chef did the same thing.  Tourists that visit Florida want seafood nearly every day of the week.  Fish on pizza, fish in pastas, fish with a sauce, broiled fish, fried fish, fish in a stew, fish on reuben sandwiches, fish, fish, fish!  
     In the old days of Florida, fried or broiled fish were the only options.  Starting in the 1980's, Florida seafood entrees started to become trendy.  By the time the 1990's rolled around, there were some pretty weird fish concoctions on menus.  Especially at bars and trendsetting cafes.  
     When we first started selling fried fish club sandwiches at the trendy French cafe, I knew that the sandwich was going to sell like hotcakes.  A club sandwich is easy to recognize.  Tourists who were weary of exotic strange preparations of fish jumped all over the fried fish club sandwiches, because the flavor was easy to imagine.   
     It was not hard for a tourist to imagine that a fried fish club sandwich was a good choice for a comfortable meal.  Especially when the sandwich was described as having applewood smoked bacon on it.  Back in the 1990's, applewood smoked bacon peaked in popularity, so the choice of bacon helped to sell the sandwich.  
     The first night that we sold the fish club sandwich special du jour, we sold over 160 of them!  That is a lot of club sandwiches!  Considering that the ingredients were cheap and the tourist season menu prices were high, the fried fish club really made the restaurant a big wad of cash.
     There are no tricky cooking techniques involved in today's recipe.  Smoked bacon is the best choice.  I chose hickory smoked bacon for this recipe, but go ahead and use whatever kind of smoked bacon that you may prefer.  
     Swai is also called iridescent shark.  Swai is from the Mekong region of Vietnam and it is a prized fish for fish farming.  Swai are predators and they are not bottom dwelling catfish that eat old garbage.  The meat is translucent white and the flavor is very clean.  Swai is a farm raised sustainable fish.

     Smoked Bacon:
     Heat a griddle or saute pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Grill 3 or 4 slices of hickory smoked bacon, till the become golden brown and crisp.
     Place the bacon on a wire screen roasting rack to drain off any excess grease.
     Keep the bacon warm on a stove top.
     Pan Fried Swai:
     Plain milk and flour dredging produces a thin crisp crust on fish that easily flakes.  This style is great for saute entrees, but it is not the best for sandwiches that need to be cut.  Buttermilk produces a much more durable crust! 
     Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat.
     Add enough vegetable frying oil, so the oil is about 1/2" deep.
     Use a thermometer and adjust the temperature, so the oil is 360º.
     Season 2 cups of flour with sea salt and black pepper.
     Add 1 pinch of ground sage.
     Add 1 pinch of oregano.
     Add 1 pinch of cayenne pepper.
     Add 1 pinch of white pepper,
     Add 1 pinch of onion powder.
     Add 1 pinch of garlic powder.
     Mix the ingredients together.
     Cut a piece of swai filet that is the same size as the bread that will be used for the sandwich.  The filet should weigh 4 to 5 ounces.
     Dredge the swai in the seasoned flour.
     Dip the floured fish in buttermilk.
     Dredge the fish in the flour a second time.  Be sure the fish is completely coated.
     Gently place the coated swai in the hot oil.
     Pan fry till the bottom half becomes a golden brown color.
     Carefully use tongs to flip the swai over.  Be careful not to splash the hot oil! 
     Pan fry the swai till it becomes golden brown on both sides and fully cooked.  (A probe thermometer should read 145º in the center of the filet.)
     Use a slotted spatula to place the swai on a wire screen roasting rack to drain off any excess oil.
     Keep the sawai warm on a stove top.

     Club Sandwich of Pan Fried Swai, Spinach and Smoked Bacon:
     The original club sandwiches were a BLT sandwich on top of a turkey sandwich.  No cheese was on the original club!  Cheese is optional but it is not required.  There is no cheese in this recipe.
     Toast 3 slices of French sourdough bread or a bread of your choice.
     Spread mayonnaise on one side of each slice of bread.
     Place a layer of baby spinach leave on two of the slices of bread.
     Place a layer of thin sliced tomato on the spinach.
     Place the pan fried swai on on of the sandwiches.
     Place the smoked bacon on the other sandwich.
     Place the top slice of bread on the BLT sandwich.
     Place the BLT on top of the pan fried swai.
     Spear the sandwich with 4 long frill toothpicks or thin fancy bamboo skewers.  The frill picks must be slightly longer than the height of the sandwich.  The frill picks should be centered to the sides of the bread and not the corners!  Space the frill picks, so a knife can cut through the sandwich from corner to corner. 
     Cut the sandwich in half from corner to corner, while holding the sandwich together with your finger over the back of the knife.
     Hold the top of the sandwich with fingers arched and cut corner to corner with the knife to cut the sandwich into quarters.
     Use both hands to lay the quart sandwiches on their sides.
     Place two of the sandwich quarters end to end and press the frill picks into the sandwich to create one long sandwich half.
     Hold the frill picks steady, gently press the sandwich from end to end, so the pressure holds everything in place.  Place the long doubled up sandwich on a plate.
     Repeat the last few steps with the other two sandwich quarters.  
     Garnish the plate with Italian parsley sprigs and pickled green tabasco peppers.

     Writing the instruction for a club sandwich is really no fun.  I have shown cooks how to make a club sandwich in person and they still foul it up.  Putting the frill picks in the corners is a mindless mistake that many stoner cooks repeatedly make.  Ce est la vie!  
     This is one great tasting pan fried swai club sandwich!  The smoked bacon and spinach adds to the appeal.  Yum!  ...  Shawna    

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