New Orleans’ Po Boys

By Charles Oppman

New Orleans’ Po Boys

With Mardi Gras fast approaching in early March, we thought it only fitting to publish the recipe for a Nawlin’s favorite.  Every so often a marvelous dish is created, one that is so special, so memorable it becomes a classic. The famous New Orleans’ po boy is one such creation. But what is a po boy exactly? Let’s start with what it isn’t. It isn’t a hoagie, a sub or a grinder. Those are northern creations made with soft, gummy bread. Po boys are made with baguettes that have a crunchy crust and a soft, tender crumb. Po boys are uniquely New Orleans. They symbolize the city’s social and cultural heritage.

Po boys have an interesting history. Bennie and Clovis Martin left their Raceland, Louisiana, home in Cajun country in the mid-1910s for New Orleans. Both worked as streetcar conductors until they opened Martin Brothers’ Coffee Stand and Restaurant in the French Market in 1922. The years they had spent working as streetcar operators and members of the street railway employees’ union would eventually lead to their hole-in-the-wall coffee stand. The streetcar workers’ strike began on July1, 1929. It was a protracted and vicious labor dispute. The sympathetic Martins provided large French bread sandwiches to the strikers. Bennie Martin said, “We fed those men free of charge until the strike ended. Whenever we saw one of the striking men coming, one of us would say, “Here comes another poor boy.” The name stuck, but was quickly shortened to “po boy.”

Also called an “Oyster Loaf”, the oyster po boy is one of the most popular varieties of this legendary New Orleans’ sandwich. Po Boys can have a variety of fillings; seafood, roast beef, turkey, ham, chicken or egg salad…………….. My favorite is the fried oyster one. Beyond the unparalleled flavor, the texture of the crunchy oysters takes this sandwich to another level. An oyster po boy should be “fully dressed” meaning it has to be filled with shredded lettuce and tomato and basted with melted butter or mayo. Mayo may be substituted with tartar sauce or New Orleans’ style roumalade sauce — doctored up tartar sauce really. The foundation of this work of sandwich art is the bread. Common sandwich bread won’t do. Any respectable po boy must be made with an ample length of a crunchy French baguette. Preferably, the loaf should be toasted prior to building the sandwich. The crunchiness of the oysters and warm bread are significant because they impart a perfect texture and mouth feel.

6 Plump, raw oysters

½ C all-purpose flour

½ C corn meal

1 Egg, lg., beaten

½ C milk

1 C peanut oil

8” French baguette, sliced long ways

Mayonnaise or melted butter

Lettuce and tomato

Salt and pepper, to taste

Old Bay seasoning

     Combine flour and corn meal and add Old Bay, salt and pepper, to taste, to make seasoned coating blend. Whisk egg and milk in a separate bowl. Thoroughly coat moist oysters in seasoned dry mixture then immerse in egg and milk mixture. One by one recoat each oyster and drop in hot peanut oil of 350F. If oil is not deep enough for oysters to submerge turn them over when golden brown. If oysters are submerged they will float when done. This should only take about 2 minutes. DO NOT overcook the oysters. Oysters are mostly water and will rapidly lose moisture when cooked too long. Drain on paper towel. Spread mayo or melted butter on toasted baguette. Finally, arrange oysters, lettuce and tomato in baguette and enjoy this uniquely American sandwich. Oysters may be replaced with shrimp or fish fillet.

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