Sun 17 Jun 2012
Even though a sandwich seems simple enough, it’s really hard to find a great, well-constructed sambos these days. The ratio of filling to bread, the texture of the bread (overly toasted means it tears up the roof of your mouth; too soft means not enough support for innards), the right size and balance of filling…it ain’t rocket science but there is definitely an art to making the perfect sandwich.
It was this idea – one of the perfect sandwich, which in this case was the classic po’ boy – that brought us together one breezy Saturday afternoon. For several weeks now, some of us Irish Foodies including Bill & Sharon Gunter, Aoife, Kristin and a few others filled the Twitterverse with chatter about having a po’ boy party; after a few email exchanges it was decided we’d meet at the Gunters’ for an afternoon of sandwich-making.
The po’ boy is a New Orleans invention and usually consists of a baguette filled with fried oysters, shredded lettuce and slices of tomato. There are also beef, chicken, veggie, catfish and other varieties of po’ boy, but as New Orleans is famous for its oysters, that is the one I’d consider the pure po’ boy. There’s a story behind the name (as with many great dishes do): Back in 1929, during the streetcar employee strike, restaurant owners Benny and Clovis Martin served the striking workers free sandwiches. Because the all-male strikers were referred to as “poor boys,” the sandwiches took on the name; with the Louisiana accent, it sounded more like “po’ boy,” and it stuck.
But this is Ireland, and Kristin suggested we add a few Irish elements to the American sambo. Instead of the baguette, we opted for Vlaa’s – the soft, floury roll baked by the wonderful Arun Bakery in Stoneybatter. Instead of lettuce, we went with shredded cabbage and Aoife picked up some beautiful Irish tomatoes to add to the filling.
Of course the main ingredient is the oyster, and Bill & Sharon whipped up an incredibly flavourful, spicy cornmeal crumb to coat the oysters with. After a dip in egg wash and a roll in the cornmeal, the oysters went straight into a bath of hot peanut oil where they fried to a golden brown. We smeared the Vlaa’s with Aoife’s homemade mayo (about 1000 times better than store-bought) and stacked the Vlaa’s with the oysters, cabbage and tomatoes and squished it all down before diving in. Our Irish/American hybrid po’ boy met all our expectations and every ingredient worked perfectly together both in taste and in maintaining the structural integrity of the sandwich.
As an added treat to our meal, we made root beer floats for dessert – another American classic (I found Mug Root beer at the Filipino market inside the GPO arcade off Henry Street). We put two scoops of vanilla ice cream into cups and then poured in the ice-cold root beer. For us Yanks it provided an instant flashback to childhood summers when this dessert/drink was a staple. To add just a touch more gluttony to the day, we paired the root beer floats with Kristin’s insane chocolate chip cookies and Aoife’s sesame biscuits (made from Lilly Higgins recipe).
It was a bit gloomy outside (this is Ireland, after all), but with our perfect po’ boys and homemade sweet treats, we didn’t notice the rain that had started to fall at some point. The food and company were wonderful and Mountaineering Man and I had a lovely time. We sat around Bill & Sharon’s sitting room, munching on po’ boys and sipping root beer floats – and shared some stories (very Irish!), the best told by their friend Con. It was so funny I will end this post with it:
The other day, my friend got pulled over by a garda. The garda asked, “Do you know how fast you were going there?” My friend replied, “Uh, no – I don’t.”
The garda then asked, “Well what if you had run into Mister Fog?”
My friend – a bit taken aback – said, “Well, I would have taken Mister Foot off Mister Accelerator, and then put Mister Foot slowly onto Mister Brake, and Mister Car would have come to a slower speed.”
The garda, not amused, glared at my friend and replied, “I said MIST OR FOG.”