“I’m just a poor boy, I need no sympathy…”- Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody
It is March break and the snowbirds have descended on sunnier climes, slapping on the sunblock, playing canasta by the pool and indulging in the local fare. It is pretty much common knowledge that if you want authentic Cou cou with Flying fish, you should go to Barbados, if you want authentic Texas Barbeque, make a road trip to the Salt Lick in Driftwood, Texas, and if you have a hankering for a classic New Orleans Po’Boy sandwich, recently declared the Best Regional Sandwich in America by the Huffington Post, you’re going to want to stroll the quaint streets of the French Quarter and check out Johnny’s Po-boys.
But for those of us who are enduring the last death throes of old man winter, those not lucky enough to be able to jet down to Mardi Gras, Todd-Michael St. Pierre has provided us with the next best thing; a slim, user friendly, colourfully illustrated little cookbook called The Southern Po’Boy Cookbook- Mouthwatering Sandwich Recipes from the Heart of New Orleans.
“This huge sandwich is history you can eat,” enthuses Mr. St Pierre, and continues to tell the story of this legendary sandwich. “The Po-boy dates back to 1929, when sandwich-stand owners and brothers Bennie and Clovis Martin offered free overstuffed sandwiches to striking streetcar conductors, whom they referred to as the ‘poor-boys’”.
“Our meal is free to any members of Division 194” the brothers promised. “We are with you till hell freezes, and when it does, we will furnish blankets to keep you warm.”
Understandably, the sandwiches were an instant hit. So much so, that the brothers Martin had to commission their bakery to make larger French loaves to accommodate the fillings. “We fed those men free of charge until the strike ended,” said Bennie. “Whenever we saw one of the striking men coming, one of us would say, ‘Here comes another poor boy.”
“From the very beginning,” writes St Pierre, “size was an integral part of the po’boy sandwich. A small po’boy is large by other regions’ standards, and in New Orleans, large is gigantic.”
In The Southern Po’Boy Cookbook, St Pierre is meticulous in ensuring that the Po’boy you create is as authentic as possible, right down to the bread used for the sandwich. Indeed, St Pierre even includes a recipe for homemade Po’Boy bread from his cookbook, Taste of Tremé ensuring that the sandwich you end up with is as close to perfect as possible.
And what a selection of sandwiches. In addition to familiar deep fried oyster or shrimp po’boys, St Pierre also includes a chapter named, “The Unusual Boys,” featuring tantalizing dishes like the Terrebonne (fried alligator tail), Atchafalaya (Crawfish Étoufée) and the Snug Harbour, which is a po’boy with fried green tomatoes and shrimp remoulade. There’s even a Poutine po’boy called, you guessed it, The French Canadian, for the snowbird in us all that never left the nest. Interestingly, this recipe is close to the original po’boys, as it got quite costly for the brothers to be stuffing their sandwiches with deluxe ingredients-for free- so most of the original po’boys wre stuffed with cheaper carbohydrates, like French Fries and brown gravy.
All in all, there are over fifty recipes in this tight little book, each with its own interesting history. The recipes are divided into chapters that make it easy to pick and choose, (“Original,” “International”,” Elegant and fancy”, “Unusual”, and “If it swims, cook it!”) depending on whether you feel like a light vegetarian Bahn Mi style po’boy or something completely over the top, like the Harahan, a deep fried oyster po’boy with bacon and blue cheese, there’s a po’boy for every appetite.