Thursday, April 01, 2010
Ah, the Big Easy. A city where glittering beads hang year-round like Spanish Moss from all the oak trees along St. Charles Avenue. A city where colorful old mansions exist one district away from boarded-up, hurricane-wrecked houses longing for the next Brad Pitt to come give them a second life. A city where spicy, soulful cooking goes hand-in-hand with the lively year-round music scene. Certainly, if there's one thing you can count on in this town, it's eating well.
Whether eaten in or taken picnic-style to nearby Jackson Square park, a generous sandwich is one of New Orleans' favorite ways to take it "easy." In this regard, Muffuletta is queen and the po' boy is her king.
On my trip to New Orleans last weekend, I decided to dive into the latter. The po' boy is a submarine sandwich featuring an airy French-style bread stuffed with fried meat or seafood. Far from the simple arrangement that it appears to be on paper, this sandwich is unique in its very particular chewy, flaky bread— not quite a baguette, but not quite a brioche. The folks at Johnny's Po' Boy have it down pat.
The po' boys I saw (ate) were pretty enormous. Since they often involve fried seafood (read: doesn't keep well), it would be wise to order one sandwich to split with a friend if you're in the market. In Austin (where I live) a buddy recently ordered an awesome sweetbread po' boy, and my recently New Orleanian host Nick ordered an alligator sausage 'po boy during my visit. Both versions were delicious! Spicy alligator sausage 'po boy at The Crazy Lobster:
To keep things traditional, however, one really ought to try the oyster or shrimp po' boy. To get the right consistency —the crunch that highlights perfect, brought-in-today seafood— the oysters and shrimp should be breaded in semolina and then fried. After that, the basic set-up involves only the bread and the fried filling. To get a sandwich with additional fixings included (mayo, lettuce, and tomato), ask for it "dressed." Pickles and mustard are another option one has to request specifically, but I recommend skipping those to enjoy the subtleties of the seafood. Oyster and shrimp po' boys:
What goes with a po' boy? Some purists stay away from any possible distractions (including additional dining partners) when they are committing a lunch hour to this famous sandwich. I personally think nothing beats a tall sweet tea or cola and french fries or potato chips (this festive local kind, Zapp's, did the trick):
Lastly, what's in the name? The origin of the sandwich's name is an ongoing debate in Louisiana. My favorite version is that during the Great Depression, you could get the no-frills sandwich (fried filling tucked into bread, sans fixings) free with a nickel beer — perfect for a poor boy. Or a poor girl, as it were.