Shrimp Po’ Boys


Po Boy

I have a major soft spot for classic American sandwiches (no surprises there) and recently I’ve been focused on tracking down one of the all time greats – the po’ boy – in London. It’s been a fruitless endeavour, a particular low point being my recent experience at The Diner, in Soho. I left feeling queasy, cheated and strongly convinced I should try making one at home. A

A po’ boy, in case you’re not familiar, is a sandwich originating from Louisiana, so called because it was once the staple food of labourers – the poor boys. There are many variations but the most common fillings seem to be roast beef, fried shrimp or fried oysters. A ‘dressed’ po’ boy (like this one) comes loaded with lettuce, tomato, a piquant mayo, pickles, onion and hot sauce. Gimme.

As always when one delves into these things, I found that the question of what makes an authentic po’ boy is a sensitive one. The bread should, apparently, be a New Orleans French style baguette but I had a lot of trouble finding a good-looking recipe and there seems to be controversy around the idea of the perfect crust and interior texture. Some argue that it’s impossible for home cooks to ever replicate an authentic New Orleans bread outside the area, as it’s the high humidity and unique climate in general (partly below sea level) that make the bread just so, while others say it’s the unique properties of the water. It was at this point I gave up (I’m sure you understand) and decided that a nice soft sub roll wouldn’t be the end of the world and in fact would work nicely against the crunch of fried prawns. After a failed attempt with a duff recipe, I played around and came up with a roll I was happy with – soft and sweet with a decent sturdy crust.

I bought some fat, fresh prawns and seasoned them with a mixture of polenta/cornmeal (no sweet ‘n sour chicken ball-esque batter this time, The Diner) and a fantastic New Orleans spice blend I was sent by Richard Myers, a Louisiana native. It’s a mixture of Red Sea salt; garlic; onion; spices, including paprika; white, black and red peppers; citrus; thyme; oregano and rosemary. Phew. It’s incredibly intense and seriously tasty.

I loaded the subs with a bed of shredded lettuce followed by the crisp, spicy fried prawns and plenty of  home-made mayo mixed with chopped pickles, onion, mustard and parsley, thinned and soured with pickle juice and lemon. As per the videos of famous po’ boy vendors I watched on YouTube, I finished the sandwich with an extra splash of hot sauce. Wow. The Americans really have invented some incredible sandwiches. This was a world apart from that grim recreation I suffered weeks earlier; it winds me up, the way people take a beautiful idea and make it as cheaply and with as little love as possible. I’ve never been to Louisiana, and this recipe may not be entirely authentic, but I can promise you that it was made, and eaten, with a Whole Lotta Love.

Shrimp Po’ Boys

For the subs (makes 4)

1 packet fast action dried yeast
20g caster sugar
225ml warm water
25 butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon salt
375g plain flour
1 egg white
Sesame seeds

Dissolve the sugar in the water, add the yeast and leave to activate. Melt the butter and allow to cool almost completely. In the mixing bowl of an electric mixer with a dough hook (or of course you could mix by hand), combine the flour, yeast mixture, butter and salt.

Knead really well, then cover with cling film and allow to rise until doubled in size. After this time, lightly dust 2 greased baking trays with polenta/cornmeal then split the dough into four and shape into long sub-shapes. Slash each several times with a knife, brush over egg white then sprinkle with sesame seeds. Let double in size again.

Bake at 200C for about 18-20 minutes or until golden brown all over.

For the prawns

6 raw king prawns per person, shelled and de-veined
New Orleans seasoning, available from Richard Myers (e-mail to purchase)
Beaten egg

Spread a plate with a mixture of 3 tablespoons polenta to 2 scant tablespoons New Orleans seasoning. Dip each prawn in the egg, followed by the seasoning mix.

Deep fry the prawns for 2-4 minutes, depending on size. You can also shallow fry them, but make sure you have a couple of cm of oil in the pan and turn them over halfway through. Drain on kitchen paper.

For the mayo

2 egg yolks
Oil (vegetable or groundnut are both good but don’t use olive oil, certainly not extra virgin)
2 chopped sweet dill pickles
1 teaspoon American mustard
1/2 finely chopped red onion
Juice of 1/2- 1 whole lemon
1 teaspoon juice from the pickle jar
Chopped parsley
Salt and pepper

Put the egg yolks in a clean bowl and whisk them together. Whisk in the oil, adding a few drops at a time and making sure each bit of oil is fully incorporated before adding the next. As you whisk in more oil and the mayo starts to thicken, you can start adding it in very slightly larger quantities until you are steadily adding it in a thin stream. The key with mayo is to be cautious with the oil until you get a feel for making it. If you add too much at once, it will split. If this happens, don’t despair. Take a fresh egg yolk in a clean bowl and begin adding the split mixture into it, very slowly, just as if it were the oil. This should bring it back.

Add all the other ingredients, adjusting to taste (e.g. you may want a little more lemon juice, a little more salt)

To dress the po’ boy

Split and toast the sub, then load with shredded lettuce (I used little gem), the prawns, the mayo and a dribble of (mild) hot sauce. It’s traditional to use tomatoes I believe, but I just couldn’t face it when there was snow on the ground. DEVOUR!

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  • Avatar
    Reply Jessica February 8, 2012 at 10:11 am

    I admire you commitment to the sandwich artform.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen February 8, 2012 at 10:13 am

      Why, thank you Jessica. I’m dedicated, that’s for sure!

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    Reply thelittleloaf February 8, 2012 at 10:23 am

    YUM! Dedication indeed 🙂 I love that you made your own bread for this too, and even if it wasn’t quite perfect (heat and humidity can effect the dough so much) it looks pretty good to me. What a sandwich.

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      Reply Helen February 8, 2012 at 10:32 am

      Thank you! Yeah, got it right second time around. The first time was a big leaden lump that went in the bin.

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    Reply Heather February 8, 2012 at 11:43 am

    Kudos for making the mayo; I’m a bit of a fiend. I dabbled with making aioli last weekend – same process really – turned out quite well. It’s just a shock as to how much oil you need – almost puts me off eating the stuff…maybe!

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      Reply Helen February 8, 2012 at 11:46 am

      Yes, it’s a great shock the first time you make it! I always make in an electric mixer now too, to save my arm a bit. Lovely stuff.

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    Reply ileana February 8, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    Very cool that you made your own!

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    Reply s February 8, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    amazing, i love the Po’ Boy and havent had one in aeons. you always make everything look even more delish than it already is. x s

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen February 8, 2012 at 1:35 pm

      Aww thanks S! x

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    Reply shuhan February 8, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    wow you’re nuts. I can’t believe you made everything from scratch, the shrimp, the mayo–and the buns?? very impressed.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen February 8, 2012 at 3:18 pm

      I AM nuts! Nothing is too much effort in pursuit of the perfect sandwich.

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    Reply The Grubworm February 9, 2012 at 8:45 am

    That looks really very tasty indeed. Your comment about getting the right sort of baguette made me think of Bahn Mi… I wonder if a vietnamese style bun would work? It would certainly be unorthodox. That is a great looking sarnie btw, i like that you show dedication to an art form 😉

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen February 9, 2012 at 8:54 am

      Yeah, it may well work! Just as hard to get hold of though…

      Dedication, DEDICATION! Dedication’s whatchoo neeeeeed

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    Reply Food Urchin February 10, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    Damn girl! All them sandwiches be going to yo’ head.

    (But this does look like a very tasty sandwich)

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen February 10, 2012 at 4:45 pm

      I have no idea what your comment means, Danny but thanks!

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    Reply Food Urchin February 10, 2012 at 4:49 pm

    That was my attempt at talking all southern like, looks like I failed……….*sigh*

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen February 10, 2012 at 4:59 pm

      Oh, ha ha ha ha! Sorry, my brain is currently clouded with a terrible cold. I blame myself. *weeps gently*

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    Reply Tori February 10, 2012 at 5:09 pm

    Epic and beautiful. I would travel serious distances for one of these.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen February 10, 2012 at 5:11 pm

      Thanks Tori! I wish I had another one…time consuming though with the bread-making. IF ONLY there was a decent po’boy in London!

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    Reply Jeanne @ CookSister! February 16, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Oh… my…. God – I am staring at the screen with indecent longing. So when does the Food Stories Po’ Boy truck hit the streets?! 😉

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen February 16, 2012 at 11:41 am

      Ha ha, I wish! Maybe as soon as I finish one of the other 10 or so things I have on the go 😉

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    Reply Yas March 3, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    You bad woman. I’ve just bought some lovely fresh scallops and rushed home immediately, inspired by you, to make a po’ boy. It was probably one of the nicest sarnies i’ve ever had…. or was it the anticipation? I used paprika, sesame seeds, salt and pepper in the coating, and for the filling mayo, a squeeze of lime, rocket, tomato and chopped chillies. Yuh-hum!!

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      Reply Helen March 4, 2012 at 8:41 am

      Ha ha! Yes I am a bad woman. The scallops version does sound lovely and decadent. Good work!!

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    Reply Chris Maher March 21, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    After reading this, I contacted Laissez Chef, and got some lovely spice mix too! Initially this recipe didnt appeal, as I havent made mayo before and thought it maybe a waste of prawns…how silly i was!
    My mayo was a little runny (was this down to not beating the eggs long enough? I am lazy), but tasted great! basically like big mac sauce.
    i had two rolls full of joy and spiced goodness.
    will make again, probably this weekend! i have discounted scallops in the freezer, mmmmm

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen March 21, 2012 at 4:59 pm

      Fantastic!! I’m so pleased you liked it and really pleased you bought some of the spice mix too, it’s great stuff isn’t it? The mayo just needed more oil. It’s scary how much mayo goes in I know, but the only way to thicken it is to keep adding oil.

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