Generally folks who don't live in The South have no idea what a po'boy really is - though it's often entertaining to read discussion boards where they speculate about what they think it is.
Po'boys are often compared with a sub sandwich which they most certainly are not. Not that there is anything wrong with a sub - they just aren't the same animal.
Though the origins and stories vary (as they often do), one of those stories says that po'boys originated in New Orleans back in the 1920s, when two brothers, Clovis and Benjamin Martin, opened a restaurant on St. Claude Avenue. It is also said that when streetcar drivers went under a strike in the late 20s, the brothers, former streetcar drivers themselves, helped out those on strike by making up cheap sandwiches from the shredded leftovers of roast beef which they then dipped in some gravy, and they would serve out of the back of their restaurant to the striking workers. When a kitchen cook would spot one of the workers headed to the back door, he would belt out "here comes one of those poor boys" and the name kind of stuck.
So, if you don't know what a po' boy is, it's a sandwich made by using French bread - typically a longer, more thin long type of French bread, but not the super skinny baguette bread. You can get away with the wider loaves of French Bread sold in most grocery store delis too. Then you can stuff it with virtually anything really, but down south here along the Gulf Coast, that is most often first and foremost some kind of seafood - fried shrimp, fried oysters or patties made with crabmeat. Fried soft shell crab is also particularly good especially when it's molting season for crabs and you can get them fresh. Yum.
And... y'all know I am all about making things your own in the kitchen. But ...
You will see all kinds of sandwiches across the internet these days called "po'boys" that aren't really close to what the original intent of the sandwich is. It is a simple working man's (or woman's) sandwich, not some fancied up, sauced up, "sophisticated" manner of sandwich. There is nothing sophisticated about a po'boy y'all!!
Second to seafood would probably be the alleged original ... a dripping, sloppy roast beef po'boy, dressed and pressed over here in Mississippi and loaded with plenty of debris, little pieces of roast beef and gravy, maybe with cheese and most often that's white cheese of some kind, often provolone. Mama used to say, "if it ain't dripping and sloppy, it ain't good." I made a couple of those the other day for hubs and me and man oh man, were they good! Course there's the usual standard ham and cheese, sausage, hamburger, meatball, fish, pork, turkey and just about any other kind you can drum up in the imagination too.
Now Mississippi and Louisiana, while we love one another like adoring sisters, we do our po'boys just a little bit different.
Most Mississippi po'boy purists are gonna go "dressed and pressed" no matter the kind and that's a bit different than how New Orleans does 'em. Dressed simply means to garnish it, usually with mayo, shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes and maybe an occasional pickle. Pressed means that whole sandwich is placed into a sandwich iron - sort of like a panini press - which presses the po'boy together, and creates a slightly crunchy and crusty outside while maintaining the chewy soft texture of the french bread inside. Who knew that Mississippi was in on a trend way before paninis made sandwich food fashionable.
Po'boys are an experience that you must taste for yourself, should you ever happen to make it down here to the Gulf Coast. My best friend I grew up with lives in Texas now. Every once in awhile she makes it back "home" and when she does, it's usually a must to make the po'boy rounds, having a different po'boy at a different place every day she is here. Yep. They really are that good.
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Check These Po'boys Out!
Fried Oysters for a po'boy, or
How to Construct an Oyster Po'boy Mississippi style
Homemade Roast Beef Po'boy with Gravy
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