One thing I have to mention is that because of the lack of catfish around here, I used the cheapest and most available white fish which was tilapia. But normally, if I’m going to do a seafood po’ boy with a fish fillet, I’d use catfish. It’s one of my favorites and a southern tradition.
Po’ Boys are called po’ for a reason. It truly is a poor man’s food. And a beloved comfort food especially for folks down in Louisiana. And while we tend to think of seafood as a more expensive food item (and it generally is) when you live that close to so much fresh seafood, it tends to be less expensive than other meats that are harder to raise and tend to. Shrimp is to Louisiana what beef is to places like Montana and Idaho. Generally cheap and in great abundance.
First make a roux. A dark one. And then make it into gumbo. Because I was really only using the gumbo sauce to cook the seafood in, I wanted to make it more brothy than my usual thick gumbo. And then I let it simmer covered for well over an hour until I was ready to put the seafood into it.
Meanwhile, the rice cooked in a rice cooker with chicken broth. This is by far the easiest part of the entire meal if you have one. It’s so simple, even this caveman could do it. When it’s done cooking, I add the already cooked red beans (kidney beans) a little parsley to give it some color variation and salt to taste. Not much more to it. Of course, you can add your own flavors and spices and make it a little more authentic. This is the extremely simplified version.
The thing that takes the most prep and cook time (besides the gumbo sauce) is the okra. I used my own mixture of flour, corn meal, baking powder, baking soda, cayenne, celery seed and salt for the batter, mixed in some milk and eggs and dumped the whole load of okra into. And then I left it alone to focus on cooking the fish.
The tilapia, likewise was breaded with the same mixture and fried in hot oil. I fried it on medium-high to high heat for only a minute or two because 1) they were thin fillets of fish and 2) in order to keep it warm (and allow it to cook all the way through) I put it in the oven on low heat until the rest of the meal was complete. Maybe not ideal but when you’re prepping and cooking everything all at once, you have to make the best out of what you have. This method worked quite well as the fish came out very soft and flaky and not the least bit overdone.
Once I was done frying the fish, I just used the same oil to fry up the battered okra. Of course, turning down the heat just a little bit helps. The great thing about frying okra is that you really only need to fry it until the batter turns golden brown, about the color of a corn dog (or maybe even a shade or two lighter). It’s hard to keep each okra separate from one another and really, I wasn’t all that concerned about it. Many ended up sticking together in twos or threes or even fours. That’s perfectly fine. All the more to enjoy. Nobody ever said they had to come out as individuals.
Towards the end of frying the okra, I put my seafood (shrimp and crab meat) and andouille into the pot of gumbo. Keeping it on low is an easy way to control the process, especially since seafood can so easily be overcooked and made to be chewy and rubbery. It’s also easy to tell when it’s done… the shrimp begins to turn pink. Once that happens, there’s no need for any more heat, though a hot pan will continue to cook it for a bit longer.
And then there’s nothing to it but to eat it. There’s always the matter of the bread. I don’t generally bake. So I buy some fresh French bread from the bakery or market because, well, French bread is the traditional bread used in po’ boys (obviously because of the French connection and influence in Louisiana and their culture and cuisine). The po’ boy can be “dressed” (usually with lettuce, mayonnaise and tomatoes) or it can be plain with no other dressings. I chose the former and added some regular mustard to it.
Just a word to the wise: the sandwich itself is deceptivel big and filling. If you haven’t got quite an appetite for everything, just go with the sandwich. And if you have even less of an appetite, opt for a half of one of these bad boys. Also, unless you want a soggy sandwich, I suggest using a slotted spoon to scoop the seafood and andouille out of the gumbo sauce to allow it to drain. And you’ll even have some gumbo leftover for another time or you can spoon some of it onto the rice (highly recommended).
Anyway, enjoy and bon appetit!