Recipes and Food
The Richest Po' Boy Recipe
This post is part of a month-long August series in which we asked writers to share their favorite sandwich recipes with us to celebrate National Sandwich Month.
Nearly every region of the country has its own signature sandwich. More than just fillings on some bread, it’s one of those things whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts … but only if the parts are just right. A fried-shrimp po' boy in New Orleans is exactly that.
In order for a sandwich to be a po' boy, a few things have to happen. It needs to be on French bread, specifically a yard-long Leidenheimer cut into quarters or even thirds, if you knew where your bread was buttered at your local po' boy shop. The bread ought to shatter a bit on the bite, but easily, and the crumbs ought to be slightly dry and very, very light.
The po' boy needs to be “fully dressed” if you know what's good for you: shredded iceberg lettuce, thinly sliced tomatoes, pickle chips, and a hearty dollop of mayonnaise. And if it's fried shrimp, it needs to be cornmeal-dusted and battered so it ends up with a light breading with a faint, golden crunch, well drained of cooking oil, and sweet, juicy, and hot on the inside — but not so hot that it scorches your tongue.
You might add a little remoulade to it, or Creole mustard, but it’s perfect as it’s served so why bother? I never did in all my years attending Tulane University in New Orleans or living there afterward. Sure, I dabbled with a dip here and there, but the flawlessness of this indulgent sandwich required no tampering.
A Stunning Sandwich
It was stunning in its simplicity, a bounty of small shrimp that overflowed beyond the bread to leave translucent spots on the butcher paper it was wrapped in. And it was incredible every time, at shops like Crabby Jack’s on the commercial corridor to Harahan; Parkway Bakery & Tavern in Mid-City; Johnny’s Po-Boys in the French Quarter; Domilise’s in Uptown; and this jankety, run-down mini-mart on the corner of a residential street somewhere north of St. Charles Avenue, east of Carrollton, and off Maple Street.
It’s been years since I’ve lived in New Orleans, and when I moved back to Long Island, New York, I gave up on finding good, authentic food properly inspired by the city. Folks up here riff on it, calling shrimp on bread a po' boy just because it's dusted with blackening seasoning, or creating an orange sauce they fancied was remoulade. They put jumbo shrimp, battered and fried or breadcrumb-crusted, on hearty Italian bread or an overly dense baguette and call it a po' boy. But New Orleans has ruined me forever, and the memory of steaming-hot shrimp spilling over crumbly bread and crisp green and juicy red remains bolder than any pale imitation. So for fear of disappointment, I abstain from any so-called fried-shrimp po' boys outside of New Orleans, reserving them for when I do visit and taking a grand tour of my old sandwich haunts every time.
Because anything else? Well, that’s just a fried-shrimp sandwich. Po' boys are a breed all their own.