If you're looking for us at lunchtime, there's a good chance we're waiting in line for a sandwich at Num Pang. Co-founders Ratha Chaupoly and Ben Daitz just authored Num Pang, a cookbook of Cambodian-influenced recipes from their fast-casual NYC eatery. They share the secrets behind one of our favorite sandwiches, so we can get our fix even after the shop closes.
The peppercorn catfish num pang has become one of Num Pang's most popular sandwiches and was inspired by a sweet-and-spicy clay-pot catfish dish that Ratha's mom makes. Our version is pan-seared and finished with a peppery soy-honey glaze and takes on a killer sweet-and-spicy flavor. The catfish can be prepared as a sandwich or served alongside steamed white rice with pickles to offset the sharpness of the sauce. If you have some peppercorn sauce left over, it's great drizzled over pan-seared chicken or tossed into fried rice or a stir-fry.
For the Peppercorn Glaze
1/2 c. honey
1 c. soy sauce
1 1/2 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. kosher salt
1/4 c. distilled white vinegar
3 tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 (1-in.) piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced into matchsticks
For the Catfish
4 (8-oz.) catfish fillets
1 tbsp. canola oil
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tbsp. plus 1 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
5 scallions, white and light green parts only, finely chopped
Make the Peppercorn Glaze
In a medium saucepan, combine soy sauce, honey, vinegar, salt, and sugar. Stir to combine, then bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until mixture has reduced by about half, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in the pepper and ginger, cook for 30 seconds, then turn off heat. Once cooled, it will be about the consistency of maple syrup.
Make the Catfish
1. Season both sides of the catfish fillets with 1 1/2 teaspoons of the pepper and the salt. In a large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Place catfish fillets in the skillet and cook until browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Gently turn fillets over and cook the other side for 2 minutes, then add 1/2 cup of glaze.
2. Continue to cook, basting the fish with the glaze often, until the thickest part of the fillet feels firm upon gentle pressure and the glaze is bubbling, 2 to 3 minutes. Sprinkle with some or all of the remaining 1 tablespoon of pepper, if desired.
3. Transfer each fillet to a plate and serve with sauce drizzled over the top and sprinkled with scallions.
A coffee grinder makes quick work of finely pulverizing the peppercorns. If, after tasting the sauce, you find it is too peppery and intense (lightweight!), strain out the peppercorns (the sauce will still have plenty of heat).
HOLY TRINITY (OF FOUR)
On every num pang, there are four components: fresh cucumber slices, fresh cilantro sprigs, chili mayo, and pickled carrots. The foursome is holy in our eyes. It adds a spicy, creamy, pickled, crunchy, juicy, and savory component to every sandwich and even some soups.
The pickled carrots lean more sour than sweet or salty. The kind of apple cider vinegar you use when preparing them can greatly impact their flavor. Generally speaking, cheaper, harsher apple cider vinegar needs extra water, sugar, and sometimes salt to soften the pickle's flavor. Higher-end apple cider vinegar often has a rounder and less abrasive taste.
HOLY PICKLED CARROTS
Makes 1 quart
4 large carrots, grated (about 4 cups)
1 1/4 c. apple cider vinegar
1 c. distilled white vinegar
1 1/2 c. sugar, plus more as needed
2 tbsp. kosher salt, plus more as needed
1. In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, vinegars, and salt until sugar and salt have dissolved. Add carrots and stir to combine.
2. Let carrots sit in the vinegar brine for at least 20 minutes before using. Taste them — they should be balanced, not very salty, and slightly more sour than sweet. If the flavor needs adjustement, add a little more sugar, salt, or a splash of water to lessen the intensity of the vinegar. Transfer the carrots and brine to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.
Sub in rice vinegar for the apple cider vinegar for an even subtler taste.
Buy Num Pang: Bold Recipes from New York City's Favorite Sandwich Shop by Ratha Chaupoly and Ben Daitz.
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Text excerpted from Num Pang, © 2016 by Ratha Chaupoly and Ben Daitz. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.