Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler. The po' boy may have had tough beginnings, but making one sandwich or a dozen for people you love is happy work. Gather your friends and family, put on a little mood music and pour the beer or wine. You might want to kick off your shoes, cut up a little, laugh a lot. It's time to let the good times roll, baby.
The bread: The staff of life
The business of po' boys always starts with the bread. Back in the day, John Gendusa, the Sicilian baker who supplied the Martin brothers' bread, remembered Italian loaves made long and even, without the pointed ends and plump middle of typical French bread. His loaf was almost a full yard long and let the Martins produce consistently sized sandwiches for their patrons and out-of-work brethren.
Folks claim something in the air makes New Orleans bread unique. Could be. It's bread like no other. I'd describe it as a cloud with the perfect crust. If you can't get it, use your favorite French or Italian loaf. It's not the real deal, but short of New Orleans, nothing is. Rumor has it that Asian bakeries make a product remarkably similar to the traditional loaf. Maybe they do. Try it if you're fortunate enough to have access.
The roast beef: Tender enough to cut with a glance
Roast beef for po' boys is cooked and cooked and cooked. I've seen different approaches, but I start with my grandma's way to cook roast beef, plus a few touches I've added over the years. It's interesting that the cooking method, baking dry meat with its gravy, is similar to making carnitas or pulled pork. Good ideas show up everywhere.
- 1 bottom round roast, 2-3 pounds
- 5 or 6 garlic cloves, cut into small slivers
- 1 bell pepper, cut into small slivers
- Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning, to taste
- Salt, to taste
- Coarse-ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- 6 or 7 shallots, peeled
- 1 carrot, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 quarts beef stock or broth
The gravy: Liquid love
- ¼ cup oil
- ¾ cup flour
- 3 fresh garlic cloves, chopped and rubbed into paste with ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ quarts cooking liquid from roast beef, strained and skimmed of excess fat
- Cut 12-14 slits about 2 inches deep into all sides of roast. Stuff the slits with garlic and bell pepper slivers and Tony's.
- Sprinkle with red wine vinegar, then rub with olive oil. Salt and generously pepper the outside of the roast, then allow to stand for 30 minutes.
- Heat a Dutch oven to hot over medium-high heat, then add cooking oil. Brown meat very well on all sides.
- Remove the meat to a platter and drain excess fat from pan. Add broth and scrape up bits from the bottom of the pan.
- Return meat to the Dutch oven. Add shallots, carrot and bay leaf.
- Pour beef broth over all. Cover and cook on low heat for 2 hours.
- Remove the roast from the pan. Allow to cool, then refrigerate.
- While the meat cools make the gravy (directions below). When the meat is chilled, slice it thinly and place in a shallow baking dish.
- Be sure to get up all the mess. There's a reason it's called "debris."
- Cover the meat and debris well with gravy. Seal with foil and bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees fahrenheit.
- Heat a clean, dry pot over a medium flame.
- Add oil and then stir in flour, mixing well until no lumps remain, and cook until pale blond color.
- Slowly add beef broth, stirring furiously to avoid lumps.
- Lower heat to medium-low and allow to reduce for 12-15 minutes.
- Adjust seasonings to taste.
The dressing: Best-dressed list
Dressed sandwiches in New Orleans are served with mayonnaise, lettuce and tomatoes. Pickles or onions are added on request. Ask for mustard and you quickly label yourself as "not from dis naybahood, are you, dawlin'?"
Construction: All together now
Split the loaf most of the way through, leaving a "hinge" to hold it together. Heat your bread according to package directions. Remove from oven.
Cool the loaf just long enough to handle and spread mayonnaise on top and bottom of the bread.
Pile meat and debris onto the lower half. Ladle on as much gravy as you like and top with shredded lettuce and tomato slices.
Here you have it, a roast beef po' boy, "dressed and sloppy." It's fed hungry people for a long time and that's a worthy tradition to follow.