Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Crabmeat and Cheese Po'boy and The Old Biloxi Vancleave Special

A Crabmeat and Cheese Po'boy, known locally as a Vancleave Special, is made with seasoned, thin crab patties, served on po'boy bread with mayonnaise, cheese, shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes and pickles. Add a cup of gumbo and a cold Barq's root beer in the bottle.

Crabmeat and Cheese Po'boy

It rained long yesterday, ahead of a cold front that will be bringing some welcomed lower humidity and temperatures for a day or three again. I love a good rainy day though, especially now that I work from home and don't have to make that 60-mile, round trip commute on a dangerous interstate highway. Honestly, with a legal career that was already stressful enough, the stress started well before I got there with that drive most days. It was a fine paying job, and I really enjoyed my work until Hurricane Katrina took it away, but honestly, there are so many things that I really don't miss about it anymore.

So today, I'm bringing you a Deep South favorite that I wrote about in my column a few months back at Eat. Drink. MISSISSIPPI magazine. If you're a Mississippian, I hope that you'll check out the magazine, because J.J. and the rest of the real journalists there (which I am not), do a mighty fine job bringing all things foodie from my home state to light. My food bucket list has gotten far more interesting since reading that magazine! Be sure to like their Facebook page too.

You would be hard-pressed to find someone who has lived around Biloxi for any length of time who has not heard of a Vancleave Special. The sandwich is believed to have originated in the late 1940s, at the old Rosetti's café, now long gone, but once located on the corner of Myrtle Street and East Howard Avenue in Biloxi, at the foot of the original War Memorial Bridge that crossed over the Biloxi Bay into Ocean Springs. Y'all pretty much know that area now as Casino Row if you've ever visited Biloxi.

The joining of the two cities at that time brought new life to the Point Cadet area of Biloxi by literally bridging the landlocked peninsula of Biloxi to her sister cities to the east. As the story goes, Kipp Dees, a customer of Rosetti’s, who happened to be from the Vancleave area across the bridge, one day requested something that wasn't on the menu - a crabmeat po’boy with cheese. It caught the eye of the owner who put his own slant to it by melting that cheese, and eventually added it to the menu, calling it the Vancleave Special Po'boy. At $1.75, "it was the most expensive sandwich that Mr. Rosetti sold," Dees was quoted as saying in a 2001 The Sun Herald feature. "I'm mighty proud of that sandwich."

Though the name was initially associated with Rosetti’s, the combination quickly spread across the Gulf Coast where you could order it by name pretty much anywhere that served po’boys, and the server would know exactly what you wanted.

The official Vancleave Po'boy Special of Rosetti's is long gone now, and nobody seems to still have, know, remember, or is willing to share the original crab patty recipe that Rosetti's used, so this is my own recipe, written in the style of the Vancleave Special.

Made with the classic combination of seasoned crab with some type of breading, a mixture more typically used to make deviled crab, crab cakes, or used as a stuffing for other seafood, the patties for the po'boy are formed into thinner, more oval shapes that fit nicely on po’boy bread. Don't bother to use the expensive lump or jumbo lump crab for these though, as this is the perfect place to use the lesser expensive claw crabmeat instead.

The patties are then pan-fried, placed onto po’boy bread, topped with cheese, and served dressed and pressed, meaning it is garnished with the usual suspects of mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato and often pickles. The po'boy is then toasted, typically in a commercial sandwich press, but often just pressed in a skillet. Unlike our neighbors to the west, the pressing of po’boys is traditional here along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It gives the bread a crisp outer bite, while retaining the tender inner crumb of the French bread.

The traditional way to serve this po’boy, is with a hot cup of seafood gumbo on the side and an ice cold Barq's root beer, preferably in the bottle. A small side of fresh, hot French fries is a pretty common addition also.

I know the list of ingredients appears a bit daunting, but it's really not ... that's mostly seasonings you're seeing, and it makes for a well-flavored crab patty.

They can also be made ahead and frozen. Just form the patties, dredge in flour and line them up on a parchment covered baking sheet, freezing until solid. Transfer to a zipper freezer bag or vacuum seal and they'll be ready for whenever you're in the mood for a po'boy! Just place them frozen into hot oil and brown.

Wanna bite? Boy do I love these things.

 Here's how to make a Vancleave Special of your own.

Unable to view the printable below on your device? Tap/click here.

Posted by on September 18, 2012
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