When you travel all over the gorgeous United States of America, it’s simply part of the journey to sample the local fish or seafood sandwiches. Think about going to Maine without eating a Lobster Roll or to Maryland and missing a Crab cake Sandwich? How about Minnesota or Wisconsin and skipping that Walleye Sandwich? You can’t do it. I mean, it’s just nearly a great big part of the trip. Let your mouth water over Fried Catfish Sandwiches, a big Shrimp Bahn Mi, Gravlax with Dill and Capers or even Apple and Kale, Smoked Fish Sandwiches, Lox and Bagels, Tuna Wraps, or my favorite thick crispy Fish Wiches — an outgrowth of the Midwestern Lenten Friday Fish Fry and served up at many a local bar and grill. I mean, if you live and/or work in the midwest, you send someone out for a bag of them for the office or house, right? Everyone waits all year for that to happen. These sandwiches have a cult following–maybe because they’re not available all of the time. (FISH/SEAFOOD SANDWICH HONOR ROLL HERE.) Even here in Colorado, I’m pushing for my Southwestern Grilled Fish Sandwich with Green Chile Goat Cheese and Jicama Slaw to soon become can’t-live-without-them standard fare. (Insert tongue in cheek.) And you know we have stellar trout we smoke and eat as is or in a spread or fry up for breakfast? Even though Colorado isn’t the first to come to mind when you think of fish, you might be surprised at our bounty and book a fly fishing trip for the summer. Could you make a sandwich with a Colorado trout fillet? Of course; let’s just dream about what it might be… … …
Even on the American home front, a variety of fish sandwiches are at the top of lists for quick lunches or even dinners: b-flat, but always a hit tunafish salad, tuna melts, salmon burgers, and the ever-favorite kid meal known as “fish finger sandwiches” — you know, the soggy-sorry sort of skinny frozen fish pieces heated in the oven and slapped between two pieces of whatever bread’s on hand. Some folks get fancy and bake whole pieces of frozen fried fish meant for fish and chips or even fry their own if they have time and feel like cooking.
below: Oven Catfish Nuggets from More Time could make a lovely sandwich.
And then…what about a po’ boy??? Yep, we’re talking way-down-south for a start, though they’ve moved all over the country long since:
For the uninitiated, a poor boy (aka po-boy, po’ boy, or po boy) is a sandwich that uses a six-inch or foot-long baguette-style bread that is more commonly known as French bread. Traditionally, po-boys are filled with either roast beef or fried seafood (oysters, shrimp, crab, what have you) and topped with pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, and mayonnaise. Nowadays, however, you can fill a po-boy with basically anything you want (burger patties, hot sausage, french fries, alligator meat, caprese salad, etc.). But for a sandwich with such a modest look, it has a pretty unique history behind it.
The sandwich itself has been present in New Orleans since around the late 1800s, when it was then called an oyster loaf (literally, fried oysters on French loaves). The origins of when it started being called a “po-boy” are actually not too certain, because a lot of different legends have attached themselves to the sandwich over the years. The most common consensus to explain the “po-boy” term, at least locally, comes from the story of the Martin brothers.
Oysters kept coming to mind, but I’m not an oyster person and, until recently, hadn’t eaten a raw oyster ever. Let’s remember I grew up in the middle of country where oysters didn’t easily thrive. Recently, I shamed myself into trying one — not bad! not great! — as I couldn’t believe I was the ONLY PERSON out of 14 on a wine trip who didn’t eat raw oysters. (Give me the gold star here.) The hub, however, is an oyster lover from way back. I encourage him to take part in raw bars when we’re in restaurants featuring them, but I, little old scared person that I am, never partake. Can’t say never any more. It did start me thinking about COOKING with oysters, though. Maybe making an oyster stew a la my dad. Or even frying up a bunch of the slimy goodies for starters… or how about a squishy-crunchy sandwich? I might like them better and my hub, the consummate sandwich prince, would be over the moon. If I did do that, how would I make them a little different? What would be my twist? I mean, why just do the same old, same old? So I began googling Oyster Po’ Boys. Whoa. What a wide variety of possibilities. Mostly, however, topped with lots and lots of hot sauce or gloppy remoulade. What to do?
After running through a short list of possibilities, I settled on switching up the sauce. That might be the easiest way to change it all around. After all, I did want it to obviously be a fried oyster po’ boy. Up front, I only tried it twice, but am convinced it’s a winner. And the sauce of choice? HORSERADISH BLUE CHEESE SAUCE. Not the thick and heavy blue cheese salad dressing sort of thing, but a smoother, thinner sauce drizzled daringly over the cornmeal crust of the shellfish. YES. It added a new twist all together while not taking away from the crunchy oyster. In other words, you’d get the blue cheese flavor without losing the taste of the oyster in soft grilled bread. I’d keep the traditional shredded lettuce and tomato, but add red onion and sliced spicy pickles, too. After all, we need vegetables. I thought it was a winner.
Below: frying the oysters in a deep heavy cast iron dutch oven or other deep heavy pan is a necessity for safety’s sake — a lightweight pan is easily dumped or spilled and could result in a grease fire. Important stuff: don’t ever leave the stove while deep-fat frying and never use water to put out a grease fire. Do you have a fire extinguisher in your kitchen? If not, get one now. How to put out a grease fire here.
SIDES? DRINKS? And while not everyone might agree, I don’t see a po’ boy without slaw. Let’s try something new like including colorful, sweet bell peppers for crunch and zing. See what you think! Chunky wedges of crisp fries–well, ok, let’s splurge, but use the Air Fryer to cut the fat and calories by oh-so-much. Don’t forget cold beer. No need for anything fancy here, and while you could choose your own fave, a tasty Pils or light lager might be in order here.
My oyster recipe is a bit long-winded, (as are many of them) and though you’ll be eating in just about an hour, do read through the whole thing before beginning to get the lay of the land. Set the table first. Make the slaw (scroll down for a separate recipe) and sauce next and stick them in the fridge so you can concentrate on frying; the oysters are done quickly. Must you shuck the oysters? Not if you don’t want to; oysters are available shucked and well-sealed in plastic or glass containers at the grocery or seafood stores. If you want the Air Fryer Potato wedges, see my note in the printed recipe so that you get them nearly done before you fry the oysters and then cook them just another two minutes at the end to have everything hot together. No air fryer? Make oven fries ahead of time and keep them hot while you make the rest of the food. Be brave and try this. You’ll be glad you did.
OYSTER PO’ BOYS WITH HORSERADISH BLUE CHEESE SAUCE + SWEET PEPPER SLAW
- Heavy cast iron Dutch oven for frying
SWEET PEPPER SLAW (recipe below)
HORSERADISH BLUE CHEESE SAUCE
- 1/4 cup each: crumbled blue cheese (approx. 1.5 ounces), mayonnaise, and sour cream
- 1 teaspoon prepared grated horseradish–or to taste
- Pinch each: salt and pepper
- 2-3 drops hot sauce
- 2-3 tablespoons milk–to thin the sauce
- 16-20 shucked oysters
- 6 cups canola oil or peanut oil
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup milk
- Pinch each: salt and pepper
- Shake hot sauce
DRY MIXTURE (Cornmeal for dredging):
- 2 cups cornmeal
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon Fresh ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon each: ground thyme and ground cayenne pepper
TO MAKE SANDWICHES:
- 4 soft sub or hoagie rolls, split in half lengthwise
- 3 tablespoons softened butter
- 1 1/2 cups shredded lettuce
- 2 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced
- 2 large spicy or dill pickles, thinly sliced
HORSERADISH BLUE CHEESE SAUCE
- Place ingredients in a food processor and blend well by pulsing just a few times. Alternately, mash the blue cheese in a small bowl with a fork and then whisk in the rest of the ingredients. You should be able to drizzle this sauce instead of spoon it in dollops. Place in a small pitcher, cover, and refrigerate.
FRYING THE OYSTERS:
- Preheat oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit and place a small baking pan lined with paper towels (or a rack) on the center rack.
- Pour oil into a heavy Dutch oven and heat over high heat until a deep-fat thermometer reads 350 degrees F or bubbles form around the stick end of a wooden spoon.
- Using tongs, dip an oyster into the wet mixture, shake a bit over that bowl, dredge in the cornmeal mixture (pull them through or lay them down and with fingers or a spoon bring the cornmeal over them), and carefully add to the hot oil. Repeat until you have 3 or 4 oysters in the pot, cooking until golden brown—2-3 minutes. Remove them to the warm tray in the oven. Grind a little black pepper over them. Repeat with remaining oysters.
MAKING THE SANDWICHES:
- Layer the oysters, lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, and pickles on the grilled rolls. Drizzle the Horseradish Blue Cheese sauce over the oysters. Serve hot with a side of Sweet Pepper Slaw and the wedge fries, if you like. (See NOTES for info on making the fries.)
SWEET PEPPER SLAW — recipe below
SWEET PEPPER SLAW
- 5 cups shredded cabbage
- ½ cup diced sweet bell peppers yellow, orange, or red
- 3 tablespoons minced red or spring onion
- ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon celery seed
- Pinch crushed red pepper
- ½ cup mayonnaise I like Light Hellman’s
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon white vinegar
- 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- In a large, deep bowl, toss the cabbage, sweet peppers, and onion together with the pepper, salt, celery seed, and crushed red pepper.
- Add the mayonnaise, vinegar, and sugar and toss again until very well-combined.
- Taste and adjust seasonings, including the vinegar and sugar as necessary. Getting those last two ingredient amounts right is the trick. You may have to go back and forth with them a time or two—adding a little more vinegar and then a bit more sugar – to get it to suit your taste buds. Some of it also depends on what kind of mayonnaise you use. I think American coleslaw needs gloppy store-bought mayonnaise, not homemade. Transfer to a smaller bowl, cover, and refrigerate until needed.
The History of Five Uniquely American Sandwiches (Smithsonian–By Paul Freedman, Andrew P. Haley, Imogene L. Lim, Ken Albala and Megan Elias)
Who Has the Best (Fast Food) Fish Sandwich? (Business Insider)
The Best Seafood Sandwiches in Dallas (Dallas Observer)
History of Lenten Fish Fries (Chowhound)
Deep Frying without Fear (Food52)
I’m thinking of all of you this week as we lurch from a worldwide viral crisis to a plummeting stock market to universities switching to online classes to Italy going on a country-wide lockdown to wondering about this year’s election process. While some folks think the virus is all blown out of proportion, others are washing their hands constantly while also stockpiling food and other necessities. I’m in the middle, but being over 60, I’m careful with my health. Dave and I canceled a 3-week trip to Hawaii (a cruise from San Diego leaving next week) we’d planned for over a year, dreamt about for many more, and had even already paid for! Holland America easily and happily booked us on another trip for November and we’re looking forward to it. American Airlines changed our flights with no fee. What great companies!! Meanwhile we’re avoiding large groups and so skipped concerts and church last weekend. No public transportation in the future for us. We would be ordering groceries, but the wait is 3 or 4 days for pick up or delivery. Luckily, we’re stocked up and don’t need much. I hope you are, too. It’s maybe the perfect time to try cooking something new or something old you love if you have some time on your hands. Kind of like a re-al-lyeeeee long snow day 🙂 Hey, you could even bake or cook ahead and freeze. Who knows what you’ll do?
Stay well. Be well. Be informed. Whatever you do, cook on!