New Orleans-native Chef Kelly English opened his second restaurant in Memphis, The Second Line, with the goal of bringing authentic, casual NOLA cuisine to his new hometown. With that in mind, po’ boys are at the top of his menu. Traditionally po’ boys are a type of sandwich made on a crusty French loaf with a remoulade, lettuce, tomato and meat, but chefs from around the South have put their own spin on these New Orleans classics.
Po’ Boy 101 with Chef Kelly English
There are specific flavor profiles to a po’ boy, no matter the filling. A good po’ boy starts and ends with great French bread. Without it, well, you are just having a sandwich. Po’ boys should always come “dressed”, meaning topped with mayo, lettuce, tomato, and pickles. There are very strict rules for dressing. I love mayo on a po’ boy, and Duke’s nails it on flavor. As for lettuce, can we just stop putting fancy lettuce on a po’ boy? Iceberg belongs there, just leave that alone. The same with pickles. Nothing fancy. Go to the store and find the cheapest dill pickle slices you can. Those are the right pickles for a po’ boy, period. Tomato was my biggest struggle as a chef. What to do about using an out-of-season tomato? I came to the conclusion that a tomato (and not tomato jam for goodness sake, we need to keep po’ boys as they were intended to be) was a non-negotiable part of a po’ boy, regardless of the month. As a chef who preaches “seasonal”, it is blasphemous to use tomatoes year-round, I know. Remember, too, that a roast beef po’ boy is not a roast beef po’ boy unless you have to wonder, after you put it down, how you are going to pick it back up without gravy dripping down to your elbows.
Chef Jim Noble of Kings Kitchen in Charlotte, North Carolina serves a Carolina Oyster Po’ Boy brimming with Virginia and Maryland oysters. The oysters are lightly seasoned and fried until crisp, then topped with a remoulade packed with fresh herbs for a kick of brightness. “For me, an oyster po’ boy is a natural and we have been doing them off and on for years. It’s my favorite not because it’s ours alone, but its simplicity speaks volumes. All the components complement each other without masking the oysters. Simply good. Not rocket science,” Chef Noble says.
Chef Jesse Houston of Saltine Oyster Bar in Jackson, Mississippi specializes in all things oyster but this 2016 James Beard semi-finalist shows his props for other ingredients with his catfish po’ boy. Chef Houston starts with bread baked especially for po’ boys with a crispy crust and soft middle that he stuffs with cornmeal-dredged fried catfish topped with a spicy Creole mayonnaise. Chef Houston explains, “For me, the catfish po’ boy is king at Saltine. We fry filets of local catfish in a cornmeal crust until super crispy on the outside and flaky and yielding on the inside. It’s a combination of textures you can’t get with any of the other signature po’ boys.”
Chef Kelly English of The Second Line in Memphis, Tennessee has a passion for non-fussy, authentic po’ boys and one of his favorites is roast beef. Chef English’s meaty tip: “At The Second Line, we use Will Harris’ beef exclusively (from White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, Georgia). We slowly braise whole shoulder clods until they fall apart. At home—and for here—I recommend using his short ribs to achieve the same sloppy awesomeness, but in a more manageable size.” Pair your Roast Beef Po’ Boy with a cocktail and slaw from Chef English that go perfectly with this meaty sandwich, When the Levee Breaks and Fancy-Ass Cole Slaw.