You know when you take a bite of something and you realize that this is a taste you are going to crave? Like salted caramel ice cream at Bi-Rite Creamery. It's usually something you can't get just anywhere. For me it often happens when I'm traveling somewhere and I won't easily find that taste again back home. Like the Middlewhite bacon sandwich at St. John's in London (on homemade bread with homemade ketchup, don't knock it til you try it), which my husband and I often wistfully talk about. Or, more recently, the most perfect shrimp po-boy from New Orleans.
A few weeks ago I went to New Orleans, a city I adore and which I've visited many times while growing up in Texas, but where I had not returned for at least 8 years. This was my first visit post-Katrina, and it ended up being one of the most meaningful, eye-opening, and intense experiences I've had while traveling (more on that in another post when I've had a chance to digest it all). For me, most of what makes New Orleans so special are the people who live there and their generous and kind spirit. With all that they've been through, they still carry on with the most positive attitude, full of Southern hospitality. It's obvious every time you go to a restaurant or a bar and they serve up some authentic New Orleans cuisine, welcoming, gracious, and always happy to have you there.
On the advice of a few locals, we headed over to Domilise's Po-Boy & Bar for one of the best po-boys in town. Tucked away in a residential area, we almost drove by the nondescript corner restaurant. It's all that you might expect from a divey po-boy shop, the deep fryer and sandwich station on one wall, the bar on the other, and a handful of tables scattered in between. The line moves swiftly, and then you have to jostle for a table before your name is called and your sandwich comes out. In keeping with the old-time Southern feel, the drinks on offer include bottled Barq's root beer and crème soda.
We were told that their specialty was the "1/2 and 1/2 dressed." Huh? 1/2 fried shrimp, 1/2 fried oysters. "Dressed" means slathered with mayo, creole mustard, ketchup, and topped with shredded lettuce and pickles. There is nothing light or healthy here, so if you are looking for that, you should go elsewhere.
Not being a huge fan of fried oysters (I like mine raw), I went for the shrimp po-boy dressed (although my friend did order the 1/2 and 1/2, which only comes in a large size, and amazed us all by eating the whole thing). It was incredible, and we were not disappointed. I knew one bite in that I was done for. Fresh, crisp-fried shrimp that burst in your mouth with flavor, real Gulf shrimp that you just can't get out here on the west coast. Light, airy crisp-on-the-outside French bread--oozing with the perfect amount of condiments--held it all together. I knew that I would return to the Bay Area and think about that sandwich, and wish I could just pop on over to Domilise's and get another. I'm thinking about it right now actually. My friend Amy emailed me a week to the day that we went and reminded me of the sandwich, and how she wished she had one RIGHT NOW. It's going to be a problem, I can tell.
So I decided to try to reconstruct one from memory. It won't be the same. I don't have the sweet old guy behind the bar asking, "What can I get you sweetie?" Or the friendly folks around us smiling and chatting with us, or the smell of the fresh seafood being deep fried, or that perfect taste that I crave when it all came together one day in New Orleans.
A Dressed Shrimp Po-boy
For the shrimp:
Peanut oil for frying
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornflour
1 1/2 lbs medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
For the sandwiches:
4 soft white French rolls (New Orleans style), split in half and warmed in the oven
About 2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
Dill pickle slices
1. In a medium saucepan, add enough oil so that it is 1/2-inch deep. Heat to 375 F.
2. Have ready three shallow bowls. In bowl #1, put about 1/2 cup flour. In bowl #2, crack the egg and whisk it until frothy. In bowl #3, stir together about 1/2 cup cornflour with about 1/4 cup flour. Rinse and dry the shrimp. Dredge them first in the flour, then in egg, then in the cornflour mixture.
3. Add the shrimp, in batches to avoid overcrowding, and fry just until golden brown. Set aside to drain on a paper-towel lined plate.
4. Spread each side of the bread with mayo, then creole mustard. Layer the fried shrimp, a squirt of ketchup, the lettuce, and then the pickle slices on the sandwich. Eat it up!
Domilise's Po-Boy & Bar
5240 Annunciation St.
New Orleans, LA
A small way that you can help:
The Southern Food and Beverage Museum, located in New Orleans, lost over half its collection of cookbooks in Katrina. They are trying to rebuild their collection through donations across the country. If you have cookbooks on the American South or cuisines and cultures that have influenced the cuisine of that region; community-based cookbooks or pamphlets; culinary histories; or any cuisine-based books that you think they might be interested in, please send them to:
Southern Food & Beverage Museum
Attn: Liz Williams
1 Poydras Street, #169
New Orleans, Louisiana 70130