Fried Oyster Po-Boy Recipe
Today’s post features one of New Orleans’s most legendary sandwiches: the po-boy! If we’re doing a study of sandwiches, and we’re based in New Orleans, the po-boy must be included among the greats. It’s quintessential New Orleans, and a perfectly portable meal to boot. Let’s dive into the fun and interesting stuff, shall we?
The po-boy has been on the culinary scene in New Orleans since July of 1929. Brothers Clovis and Bennie Martin (originally from Raceland in Lafourche Parish – Addie’s home parish) owned and operated the Martin Brothers Coffee Stand and Restaurant at the French Market, and to support striking streetcar conductors at the time, they fed them sandwiches. They brothers had been streetcar conductors in the 1910s, before they opened their coffee stand, so they were highly sympathetic to the workers’ plight. As the striking streetcar conductors approached them, the Martin brothers would comment to each other, “Here comes another poor boy.” And thus, the po-boy sandwich was born. This means that the original name of this sandwich was “poor boy,” which, over time, was shortened with classic vernacular New Orleans efficiency to “po’ boy.” These days, it’s spelled any number of ways from po’ boy to poboy to po-boy to po boy (and that’s not even including the Banh Mi, which is now considered a Vietnamese po-boy here in New Orleans). Any and all forms of po-boy spelling are acceptable. Generally, sticklers tend to avoid giant messy sandwiches, and everyone else knows what you’re talking about: it’s the best sandwich on earth.
At its core, a po-boy is composed of French bread and some type of protein, with cold cuts or fried seafood being among the most popular options. These days you can get as extravagant as your cravings, choosing among hot roast beef, hot sausage patties (or links), alligator sausage, lamb meatballs, BBQ shrimp and much, much more (fried green tomatoes are an excellent option as well!). You can opt to have your po-boy “dressed,” which means you’re adding mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato to your sandwich. We both like red onion for the extra kick as well, so we’ve added red onion to our sandwich. You won’t get onions when you get a “dressed” po-boy in a restaurant so make sure to ask for them, if you want them.
One of the most prototypical (and tasty) po-boys out there is the fried seafood po-boy. We opted for oysters because that’s what we had on hand (more on that later under Procurement) but it could just as easily have been shrimp. If you’re using oysters for your po-boy, be sure to get small oysters. They’re easier to fry and easier to stack on the sandwich. Keep the large oysters for eating raw or grilled on the half shell. A po-boy is the perfect use for small oysters.
A little more on French bread. It’s a must for a po-boy. It’s probably the only hard and fast rule of it all, the thing that makes it a po-boy and not a sub or a grinder: the sandwich must be on French bread. New Orleans has the perfect French bread for po-boys. It’s drier and less dense than the French bread that Addie grew up with on Bayou Lafourche, but it’s perfect because it soaks up the gravy from roast beef or the mayo on a fried seafood po-boy. It’s also crispy, which means the gravy/mayo/sauce is contained within a protective shell that breaks clean when you’re biting into it. But it’s not like a baguette with a hard outside and soft fluffy insides. Nope, it’s crusty and crispy throughout. The story is that proper po-boy bread can only be made in New Orleans, because the water in the dough must be from the Mississippi, and it must rise and bake at sea level. The best po-boy breads come in long slender loaves – perfect for a po-boy sandwich. They sound hollow when you thump them. Pretty perfect.
Finally, a word on mayonnaise. In New Orleans people are fanatical about the hometown brand: Blue Plate. Just like the people in Tennessee are gaga over their local mayo, Duke’s, here in New Orleans, Blue Plate reigns supreme. It has a tangy flavor and tastes good. Neither of us are even huge mayo fans, but when we do use it, we’re using Blue Plate. It’s a local brand (born in Gretna, just over the river) and is actually one of the oldest commercially produced mayo brands in the US. Their mid-1940s concrete “Art Moderne” style production plant now serves as artists’ lofts in the Mid-City neighborhood of New Orleans. (It really is a gorgeous building).
Now on to the fun part: cluing you in on where we got our ingredients! Let’s focus first on the oysters, since they’re the crown jewel of this sandwich. We’re truly blessed to have an uncle, well, specifically this uncle–Uncle Brent (Addie’s mom’s brother)– who frequently provides for many (if not most) of our seafood needs. There really is nothing better than having a seafood connection in South Louisiana. Over Thanksgiving break, we stayed at Uncle Brent’s camp, and he’d picked (and shucked) several bushels of oysters for us to enjoy at the camp over the weekend. Of course, he sent us home with some, too, and that’s why we have an oyster po-boy today. (Originally we were going to do a fried shrimp po-boy, but we gave that idea up when we saw how many oysters we had!). Uncle Brent is blessed to have a camp right next to Mr. Luke, a generous, feisty old Cajun man (read more about him on Culture Curious) with some pretty productive oyster leases. He allows Uncle Brent to pick as many oysters as he wants, so as a result, we get oysters when we visit during oyster season. Everyone wins. Except maybe the oysters.
We purchased the remaining ingredients between our local Rouses grocery store and our local Whole Foods. Procurement of the seafood is the most important ingredient, the one where quality and origin matter the most, and had we not been so generously given oysters, we would have procured our seafood directly from a shrimp shed on Bayou Lafourche. But the French bread is the second most important ingredient on the sandwich. We bought that at our local Whole Foods on Broad Street because they are one of the few grocery stores that carries “regular-sized” Leidenheimer’s French bread loaves. Leidenheimer is one of the premier French bread bakeries in New Orleans. Chances are that if you’re eating a po-boy in New Orleans, it’s on a Leidenheimer loaf. When a bag of Leidenheimer bread shows up at a restaurant, it’s a large paper bag filled with 10 long (think yardstick long, then think longer) slender loaves. Thankfully, at the grocery store we can get shorter single loaves and not have to invest too heavily in quickly perishable bread, but that’s a fairly recent addition to their roster.
The lettuce, tomato, and red onion came from Whole Foods, as well. If you get a po-boy from a restaurant, you’ll typically get getting thinly shredded iceberg lettuce as your lettuce. We prefer Bibb lettuce so that’s what we used here. Feel free to use what you want, of course. Think arugula, and yes, even kale if you want. The tomato we used was a hothouse tomato from Hoffstadt Farms in Covington (north of Lake Pontchartrain). Hothouse tomatoes are popular here because they allow us to have our fresh summer tomato taste in the fall and winter months, which we’re often quite grateful for. To round out our ingredients list, we bought the mayo and the frying ingredients (oil, flour, corn flour, milk, eggs, etc) at the Mid-City Rouses, to spread the grocery love to a regionally owned business. Besides, Whole Foods doesn’t sell Blue Plate mayo anyway so we had to stop at Rouses, regardless. All in all, pretty easy to procure our ingredients.
Now let’s get cracking at that po-boy!
Overall, the preparation for an oyster po-boy is fairly easy, especially if your oysters are already shucked! (That would be the case for most people.) In just about 30 minutes, you’re eating a hot, delicious po-boy. Let’s talk about what goes into that preparation, shall we?
We suggest starting by preparing the batter for the oysters. It’s best if this batter can sit for 30 minutes prior to using so that the flavors can meld to create a better flavor. It’s not required, but if you have the time, take it. Our Aunt Tynette (Addie’s mom’s sister) is a master seafood fryer, and she created the basis for the fry batter that you see below. Once you have the batter prepared, move on to readying the tomato, lettuce, and onions. Cut your French bread loaf into as many pieces as you need. You’ll want to have of that ready for when the oysters are done. Nothing’s better than freshly fried oysters, steaming on the sandwich as you take your first bite!
You’ll notice below that we recommend a double batter for the oysters. This means that you dredge the oysters in the flour mixture first, then dip into the wet ingredients, and then back to the flour again. Since oysters are so wet to start with, the double battering helps to soak up the moisture so the batter to sticks better later. It gives you a more structurally sound fried oyster in the end, and that’s important. There’s nothing worse than the batter falling off of a fried oyster and double battering is the key to that. Also, as you see in the photo above, it’s important to lay out your battered oysters so that they don’t stick together, thus pulling the batter off of one another. Frying is all about quality control.
Which brings us to the only actual cooking you’ll be doing: frying oysters! It’s helpful to have a small FryDaddy Electric Fryer or something comparable. Sure, you can deep fry on the stove, but having even a small fryer is much easier, in terms of both temperature control and the messiness factor. We love our FryDaddy. They retail for about $20 so they’re worth every penny. The important things to remember when frying: make sure your oil is properly heated (to about 350º F), and don’t overfill the fryer. We fried these 30 or so oysters about five or six at a time. They cooked quickly: about a minute per batch. We were able to get all the frying done in about five minutes, which isn’t bad at all. When you remove your fried oysters from the oil, be sure to set them on a draining rack or on a plate lined with paper towels. Either way, you’ll want to get the excess grease off the oysters so they don’t get soggy.
Finally, let’s talk about building this sandwich. Start with the French bread, cut in half longways. The average po-boy is between six and 10 inches (we recommend eight inches in the recipe below), but cut them however long you’d like. Spread the mayo on both sides of the bread then add red onion to the top of the bread if you’re using it. After that, place the lettuce and tomato on top of the onions and mayo. Finish the sandwich by piling 12 to 15 oysters on the bottom of the French bread. Carefully flip the top onto the bread and enjoy! Oyster po-boys are best eaten with Zapp’s chips and a cold beer. We have the jalapeño flavored ones in this picture — they’re delicious!
The po-boy is a universal sandwich in New Orleans. It’s what people in the city are talking about when they talk about sandwiches. Unlike the muffuletta, which is limited in appeal by its necessary inclusion of olives, the po-boy is far more flexible, thus having an even wider appeal. With its endless number of variations, it’s the most common sandwich found in New Orleans and the sandwich best loved by New Orleanians. Born of humble roots, the po-boy is accessible to regular people just looking for a quick meal or something easy, but it can be elevated into more by just exercising a little creativity within the constraint of the sandwich. Best of all, this isn’t even that hard! Any cold cut sandwich is immediately transformed when it’s put on French bread and turned into a po-boy. Get creative! What else tastes good on French bread? Think of all the meats and gravies! Thus is the power of a good loaf of French bread. The universal appeal of the po-boy is perhaps its strongest quality, and this is responsible for the flourishing, healthy (business-wise, at least) New Orleans sandwich scene . With a po’boy, there’s something for everyone.
This oyster po-boy recipe offers a taste of Southeast Louisiana in your own kitchen!
Fried Oyster Ingredients:
Wet Batter Ingredients:
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 2 tablespoons spicy brown mustard
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
Dry Batter Ingredients:
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1 cup corn flour
- 1 quart oil
- 24 to 30 shucked small oysters
- 2-8” lengths of french bread
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 2 to 4 Bibb lettuce leaves
- 4 to 6 tomato slices
- 8 to 10 thin red onion slices
- Fried oysters
Preparing the batter:
- About 30 minutes before you’re ready to fry the oysters, place all of the ingredients in the Wet Batter Ingredients section into a mixing bowl. Whisk well to mix and refrigerate until ready to use.
- On a dinner-sized plate, add the two flours, mix well with a fork, and set aside until ready to use.
Battering the oysters:
- On a table or countertop, lay out the wet and dry batter ingredients along with the raw oysters and an empty platter or pan for laying out the battered oysters before frying.
- Start by dipping the oysters (a few at a time) in the flour mixture. Toss well to coat.
- Next drop the oysters in the wet ingredients batter.
- Carefully remove the oysters and place them in the flour mixture once more. Be sure the oysters are evenly coated with batter.
- Shake off excess flour and lay the oyster in a single layer on the pan or platter until ready to fry.
- NOTE: The whole process is much less messy if you designate one hand as the “wet ingredients” hand and the other as the “dry ingredients” hand. It takes practice but makes a huge difference.
Frying the oysters:
- When ready to fry, heat the oil to 350ºF.
- Once the oil is heated, carefully drop in five to six battered oysters, and cook for about a minute per batch.
- Remove the oysters from the oil and set to drain on a plate lined with paper towels or a metal draining rack.
- Repeat until all of the oysters are fried.
Building the po-boy:
- Start with two 8" lengths of French bread (or whatever length you desire).
- Smear mayonnaise on both sides of each sandwich.
- Divide the red onions and scatter on top of the mayonnaise.
- Finish each sandwich top with half of the lettuce and tomatoes.
- Divide the oysters between the two bottoms of French bread.
- Place the tops on the sandwiches and enjoy!
Cook:1 minute per batch of oysters
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