How to Build a Better Po' Boy at Home
As a native Alabamian who has lived in New York City for close to fifteen years, I sometimes get homesick for the food that was all around me where I grew up. Birmingham isn't part of the Cajun country that's famous for gumbo, boudin, and po' boys, but they were still pretty easily available, and I've had a hard time finding the Southern food I grew up on executed well, without fuss, in Brooklyn. That is, at least, until a little shop called The Gumbo Bros. opened in Brooklyn a couple years ago and started serving po'boys and gumbo that tasted as close to what you can get in New Orleans or Mobile as any place I've found in New York City.
Gumbo Bros. co-founder and executive chef Adam Lathan is a Mobile native who met his business partner, Clay Boulware, at LSU. The two began Gumbo Bros. as a food truck in Madison Square Park in 2014 before moving into a more permanent brick and mortar home in 2016. Their menu is full of Cajun food that's hard to find in other parts of the city, like boudin balls and, my favorite, a hot roast beef po' boy served with debris, a gravy full of flavorful bits of meat.
Making great po' boys shouldn't be that hard, and yet, outside of the South, it's tricky to find a good one. Luckily, if you're neither in range of New Orleans nor of The Gumbo Bros., you can still try your hand at making them at home with a few expert tips that Lathan has to offer.
Bread Is Everything
Like for a hamburger or a great sub sandwich, the bread in a po' boy is crucial. So crucial that Lathan hasn't found any that works for his purposes in Brooklyn, so he imports the bread for his sandwiches from Leidenheimer, the grandadddy of po' boy bread places in Louisiana. Even if you're not looking to go to those lengths, you can improve your po' boy immesnely by paying attention to the bread's texture. You want something that isn't overly soft, like a brioche, but not as crusty as a baguette either. Lathan suggests trying to find a banh mi roll, which is the closest thing he's found to the right consistency outside of the original stuff.
Dress It Well
When you order a po' boy at a habitual spot, they'll likely ask you whether you want it dressed. In this case the dressing is lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise, and though that might just sound like filler, it's an important addition to the taste and texture of a sandwich that's otherwise filled pretty simply with meat. Lathan swears by Duke's mayonnaise, a Southern favorite, and takes care about the ingredients he uses. When a sandwich is that simple, every ingredient counts.
Work Flavor Into The Filling Before You Cook It
For the fried shrimp and fried green tomato po' boys at Gumbo Bros., Lathan marinates both ingredients in buttermilk and hot sauce. That way, the flavor gets infused into the meat before you fry it, and even before you bread it to be fried. It's a strategy that you can apply to your po' boy no matter what you're putting into it—taking care to extract as much flavor as you can from every ingredient.
"One mistake I think people make is only seasoning one part of the shrimp," Lathan told me. He makes sure to season the breading and the meat itself, because when you season only one part, the meat can taste bland and flavorless. Use your best practices for breading by making sure that the breadcrumbs and flour and egg all have seasoning in there that will help build layers of flavor into the sandwich.