One of America’s Favorites – Po’ boy

October 21, 2019 at 6:02 AM | Posted in One of America's Favorites | Leave a comment
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A po’ boy (also po-boy, po boy) is a traditional sandwich from Louisiana. It almost always consists of meat, which is usually roast beef or fried seafood, often shrimp, crawfish, fish, oysters or crab. The meat is served on baguette-like New Orleans French bread, known for its crisp crust and fluffy center.

Roast beef was New Orleans’ most popular po’boy filler up to the 1970s and fried oyster po’boys are popular enough that they are sometimes called an oyster loaf, but the fillings can be almost anything, according to Sarah Rohan who in her book Gumbo Tales mentions fried shrimp, catfish, crawfish, Louisiana hot sausage, fried chicken, baked ham, duck, and rabbit.

A “dressed” po’ boy has lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayonnaise. Fried seafood po’ boys are often dressed by default with melted butter and sliced pickle rounds. A Louisiana style hot sauce is optional. Non-seafood po’ boys will also often have Creole mustard.

The New Orleans sloppy roast beef po’ boy is generally served hot with gravy and resembles a Chicago Italian beef sandwich in appearance and method of preparation, although the size, bread, and toppings differ. To make it, a cut of beef (usually chuck or shoulder) is typically simmered in beef stock with seasonings such as garlic, pepper, thyme, and bay for several hours. The beef can be processed into “debris” by cutting it to shreds when done (folklore says that a po’ boy roast is done when it “falls apart with a hard stare”) and simmering the shredded beef in the pot for a longer time to absorb more of the juice and seasoning.

A roast beef po' boy

A roast beef po’ boy

In the late 1800s fried oyster sandwiches on French loaves were known in New Orleans as “oyster loaves”, a term still in use. A sandwich containing both fried shrimp and fried oysters is often called a “peacemaker” or La Médiatrice.

The origin of the name is unknown. A popular local theory claims that “po’ boy”, as specifically referring to a type of sandwich, was coined in a New Orleans restaurant owned by Benny and Clovis Martin (originally from Raceland, Louisiana), former streetcar conductors. In 1929, during a four-month strike against the streetcar company, the Martin brothers served their former colleagues free sandwiches. The Martins’ restaurant workers jokingly referred to the strikers as “poor boys”, and soon the sandwiches themselves took on the name. In Louisiana dialect, this is naturally shortened to “po’ boy”.

One New Orleans historian finds the Martin claim suspicious for several reasons, starting with the fact that it wasn’t described by the local press until 40 years after the strike, and that prior to 1969 the story from the Martin brothers themselves was that they had created the po-boy for farmers, dock workers and other “poor boys” who frequented their original location near the French Market. (The Martin brothers did write a letter, reprinted in local newspapers in 1929, promising to feed the streetcar workers, but it referenced “our meal” and made no mention of sandwiches.)

Fried shrimp po' boy at Middendorf's

Fried shrimp po’ boy at Middendorf’s

New Orleans
New Orleans is known for its grand restaurants (see Louisiana Creole cuisine), but more humble fare like the po’ boy is very popular. Po’ boys may be made at home, sold pre-packaged in convenience stores, available at deli counters and most neighborhood restaurants. One of the most basic New Orleans restaurants is the po’ boy shop, and these shops often offer seafood platters, red beans and rice, jambalaya, and other basic Creole dishes.

The two primary sources of po’boy bread are the Leidenheimer Baking Company and Alois J. Binder. There is fierce competition between po’ boy shops, and resident opinions of the best po’ boy shop varies widely.

Each year there is a festival in New Orleans dedicated to the po’ boy, the Oak Street Po’Boy Festival. It is a one-day festival that features live music, arts, and food vendors with multiple types of po’ boys. It is held in mid-November along a commercial strip of Oak Street in the city’s Carrollton neighborhood. The festival gives “best-of” awards, which gives the chefs an incentive to invent some of the most creative po’ boys.

Authentic versions of Louisiana-style po’ boys can be found along the Gulf Coast, from Houston through the Florida Panhandle. The term “po’ boy” has spread further and can be found in the South Atlantic States and in California, where it may instead refer to local variations on the submarine sandwich.

 

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