“Our meal is free to any members of Division 194. We are with you till hell freezes, and when it does, we will furnish blankets to keep you warm.” – Bennie and Clovis Martin, owners of Martin Brothers’ Coffee Stand and Restaurant, birthplace of the po’ boy
While everyone else counts down to Turkey Day, the clock on the New Orleans Po-Boy Preservation Festival website is marking the seconds until Sunday, Nov. 22. The day historians, chefs, musicians, artists, craftsmen, volunteers and fans will take to the streets to celebrate the poor boy (or po’ boy), New Orleans’ most famous sandwich: a crisp baguette split and barely hanging on to piles of fried seafood or roast beef and gravy, freshly shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes and mayonnaise, remoulade or Creole mustard.
It’s time to save a culinary treasure from being lost in the swelling sea of torpedo-sized fast-food sandwiches. And if you don’t live near New Orleans, saving the po’ boy means making one.
First, a little history. The po’ boy was created by Bennie and Clovis Martin, two brothers who worked as streetcar conductors before they opened the Martin Brothers’ Coffee Stand and Restaurant in the French Market in 1922. When the streetcar motormen and conductors went on strike in 1929, the Martin brothers sent the letter quoted above and provided oversized, free sandwiches to those “poor boys.” During the Great Depression, locals could feed their families on one huge po’ boy.
No one wants a sandwich with so much history and sense of place to be erased by a “five dollar foot-long.”
It’s time to break out the baguettes and spread the Po’ Boy Love.
With holiday gluttony on the horizon, I nixed the traditional fried seafood in favor of a Grilled Cajun Shrimp Po’ Boy with Spicy Remoulade. Just toss the shrimp with a little olive oil and a tablespoon of your favorite Creole seasoning, and let them cook in the grill pan for three minutes on each side. While they’re on the fire, you can split your baguette and slather on your condiment of choice. The baguettes made for po’ boys in New Orleans are less moist and doughy than the ones at the grocery, so I like to dig out some of that extra bread and leave it out to stale for breadcrumbs. Less bread makes the sandwich much easier to handle (and bite into), and it makes a nice trench to hold your grilled shrimp and keep them from going rogue.
However, if grilled shrimp isn’t your thing, you could always make a po’ boy with fried catfish, pulled pork, ham and cheese, crab cakes, fried oysters or meatballs. Or, make a vegetarian version with fried eggplant, grilled mushrooms or fried green tomatoes.
Come to think of it, a po’ boy would put a nice twist on that post-Thanksgiving turkey sandwich. Maybe with a little cranberry mayo … I believe the countdown is on.
Grilled Shrimp Po’ Boy
Rebecca Crump (EzraPoundCake.com)
Makes 2 large sandwiches
- 1/2 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon Creole seasoning
- 1 French baguette
- 1 cup shredded lettuce
- 1 large ripe tomato, thinly sliced
- Spicy Remoulade Sauce (recipe follows; make several hours ahead for best flavor)
- Toss the shrimp with the olive oil and Creole seasoning. Heat a grill pan to medium-high, and grill the shrimp for about 3 minutes each side. Remove the shrimp from the pan, and set aside.
- Split the baguette horizontally, scoop out some of the bread (if desired), and spread the Spicy Remoulade Sauce on both sides of the bread.
- Place the shrimp on the bottom half of the baguette. Then pile on the shredded lettuce and tomato slices. Place the top half of the bread onto the sandwich, and divide the sandwich in half vertically to make two sandwiches.
Spicy Remoulade Sauce
Adapted from Sunny Anderson (“Cooking for Real,” via FoodNetwork.com)
For the best flavor, make this sauce several hours in advance.
Yield: 1 1/2 cups
- 1 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup stone-ground mustard (preferably Creole)
- 1 clove garlic clove, smashed
- 1 tablespoon pickle juice
- 1 tablespoon capers
- 1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon hot paprika
- Dash of Frank’s Red Hot hot sauce
Blend all ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Chill until ready to serve.