The Po-Boy is the other face of New Orleans cuisine. The city is known for its grand restaurants
and unique Créole cuisine, but the more humble fare like the po-boy is also very popular.
The Po-Boy is a traditional and unique sandwich from southern Louisiana. It consists of
New Orleans French bread, and either fried seafood (oysters, shrimp, softshell crabs, catfish),
or Louisiana spicy sausage, or hot roast beef with gravy, etc. The fried seafood variety
is usually served "dressed", which for the uninitiated means shredded iceberg lettuce,
sliced tomato, mayonnaise, and pickles.
The basis of every Po-Boy is New Orleans French bread. The name implies a French origin,
and one might think that to be very likely given the rich Francophone heritage of the city.
At first glance, New Orleans Frech bread does resemble the French baguette. However,
the French baguette is thinner and has a thicker, harder and crunchier crust. New Orleans
French bread has a very thin crisp crust and soft fluffy center. The crust is smooth, as opposed
to the rather rough crust of the baguette. The baguette has a diameter of about 6 centimetres
(2⅓ in) and a usual length of about 65-70 centimetres (26-28 in). New Orleans French bread
is roughly twice as wide and softer. It is also typically longer, and individual po-boy sandwiches
are made about 10 inches long these days.
In fact, the origins of the New Orleans French bread are probably more German and Austrian
than French. Germans flocked to New Orleans in the mid-1800s, and Germanic influence continues
to add cultural interest to the New Orleans melting pot. Today, the leading manufacturers
of New Orleans French bread are German bakeries were established more than 100 years ago,
such as the Leidenheimer Baking Co. and the Alois J Binder Bakery.
New Orleans French bread (from Seriouseats.com)
New Orleans French bread is generally similar to the Austrian Weckerl and to the Czech
veka in that they are all types of white long and round bread. Like New Orleans
French Bread, the Czech veka has a thin crust and a roughly similar cross section,
but in contrast to the French bread it is denser and the crust is soft. (The veka is
the basis for open face sandwiches called Obložené Chlebíčky
made in Czech Republic and Austria.)
Czech veka, a relative of the Austrian Weckerl.
Compare these two recipes for the New Orleans French bread and for the Czech veka.
They are quite similar and it does seem quite likely that people like Ledenheimer and Binder
brought from their native Central Europe their ideas about what white bread should look like,
and started making such breads in New Orleans.
This recipe for New Orleans French Bread was published by the Times-Picayune and
attributed to the G. H. Leidenheimer Baking Company:
- 2 cups warm water (110 deg F)
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 2 tbsp dry granulated yeast
- 2 tbsp vegetable shortening
- 6-1/2 cups bread flour
- 1 tbsp salt
- YIELD: 4 loaves
- Place the 2 cups water in the bowl of a stationary mixer fitted with a dough hook.
Add 1 tbsp sugar and sprinkle with the yeast. Allow to sit for about 15 minutes,
until the mixture is bubbling. Add the remaining 1 tbsp sugar,
the shortening and 5 cups of flour.
- Mix until a dough starts to form. Add the salt and the remaining flour as needed
until the dough forms a ball and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Continue
to knead with the dough hook for 10 minutes.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead by hand for a minute
or two, until dough is smooth and elastic.
- Return it to the mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set in a warm,
draft-free corner to rise for 1 1/2 hours, or until doubled in size.
- Punch the dough down, then divide it into four balls. Cover these with a clean
dishtowel and let them rest for 15 minutes.
- Form each ball into a 16-by-3-inch loaf. Place the loaves on baking sheets,
cover them with a damp cloth and set aside to rise for 1-1/2 hours.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Gently place the fully risen loaves in the preheated
oven and bake for about 30 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on racks.
This recipe for Czech veka was published by TV Nova in Prague:
- 1 kg (2.2 lbs) fine wheat flour
- 20 g (3/4 oz) yeast
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- 500 ml (2 cups) water
- YIELD: 4 loaves
- Place the flower in a bowl and make a little hole in the middle. Crubmle the
yeast into the hole and pour a little lukewarm water over it. Let the mixture
sit and wait for the yeast to activate.
- The temperature of the water is important for proper activation. If the water
is too hot, the yeast (which is a living organism) will die. A temperature of
140 deg F (60 deg c) is usually sufficient to kill yeast cells. Cool water,
on the other hand will decrease the growth of the yeast, but if the water is
too cold, the yeast cells will become dormant (usually below 50 deg F, 10 deg c).
- Fold flower from the edges of the bowl over the yeast, add the sugar and more
lukewarm water. Add the salt and make sough. Work the dough to get air into it.
- Work the dough in a ball, place back in the bowl, cover and allow to rise.
- Divide the dough into fourths, and make long loaves. Bake in a 175-180 deg c
oven for 20 minutes.
In France, long but broad bread loaves have been made since the time of Louis XIV. During
the 19th century, long sticks of bread a yard or two in length were eaten but these were
very different from the modern Frech baguette. This changed in the late 1830s when August
Zang, the grand chamberlain of the Austrian court, acquired a shop in Paris on
Rue de Richelieu and started introducing Viennese steam-baking techniques. The Vienna
bread-making innovations are often credited for baking with steam leading to different
crust characteristics (crispiness and glaze).
The present form of the baguette appeared around 1890. New ovens, use of direct yeast,
drawing of slits arranged at an angle, length of 70 x 6 centimeters and 300 gram weight.
The method is simple: yeast is activated for 3 hours, without leaven or fermented paste.
The ingredients are also simple: wheat flour, water, yeast, and common salt. No sugar, unlike
the Czech/Austrian veka and New Orleans French bread. The French baguette is baked
in a deck oven with steam injection. The oven is typically heated to well over 200 deg c
(390 deg F). The steam allows the crust to expand before setting, thus creating a lighter,
airier loaf. It also melts the dextrose on the bread's surface, giving the baguette
a slightly glazed surface. It looks nothing like the New Orleans French bread.
But back to the Po-Boy. Now that we know that New Orleans French bread was introduced to
the city by Germans, how did the Po-Boy originate? In the early years of the 20th century,
Benny and Clovis Martin moved to New Orleans from rural Raceland. They found employment
as streetcar conductors, and later opened a sandwich shop near the French Market.
The po-boy was invented in 1929, when the Martin brothers began making free sandwiches
for striking streetcar drivers. They referred to the striking men as "poor boys", or
"po' boys" in the New Orleans lingo. The sandwiches were filled with whatever scraps were
available, like beef gravy and french fries, or mayo, lettuce, and tomato.
The shape of New Orleans French bread began to change too, and depart from either the baguette
or the Weckerl. They worked with local baker John Gendusa to develop an evenly sized 40-inch
loaf, that could be cut into evenly sized pieces. A typical po-boy today is 10 inches long.
So much for the question of bread. The next important thing is fresh flavourful meat and
golden-brown fried seafood. Here is a recipe from one of New Orleans star chefs, Gerard Maras.
Fried Oysters or Shrimp
- 1 quart shucked oysters or peeled shrimp
- 1 tbsp hot sauce, preferably Crystal
- Salt and pepper
- 1 cup milk
- 2 eggs
- 1/3 cup flour
- 1-1/2 cups canola oil heated to 365 deg F
- 4 cups breading mix:
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 cups corn flour
- 1 cup corn meal
- 1/2 cup cornstarch
- 2 tbsp kosher salt
- 2 tbsp black pepper
- 2 tbsp dry thyme
- 3 tbsp paprika
- 2 tbsp chili powder
- 2 tbsp dry oregano
- Place the oysters or shrimp in a stainless bowl and season with the hot sauce,
and salt and pepper. Mix the eggs with the milk, whisk in the flour, and pour
into bowl with shrimp or oysters. Mix well.
- With a slotted spoon, remove some of the oysters or shrimp, let drain, and add
to breading mix. Toss lightly, then carefully drop into the hot oil. Fry until
lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Remove, drain on paper towels and salt if desired.
The final assembly of a po-boy is simple. Slice the French Bread lengthwise, spread
mayonnaise on each half, fill with the fried seafood, and add shredded iceberg lettuce,
sliced tomato, and pickles.
Fried Shrimp Po-Boy
Fried Oyster Po-Boy
Fried Alligator Po-Boy
Roast Beef Po-Boy
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Last updated: February 24, 2017