Beer-Boiled Shrimp Po'Boy
This post was my entry in Paper Chef #10, a monthly competition created and hosted by Owen at Tomatilla! The judge this month is Kevin of Seriously Good, in recognition of his triumph last month with the amazing Stuffed Pork Loin with Peach Gastrique.
Owen has suggested that this month's Paper Chef competitors keep New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in our hearts by using a quartet of traditional ingredients of the region for the competition (shrimp, sausage, tomatoes and beer) and foregoing a restaurant meal in order to make a donation to the relief effort. Further, Owen suggested that the Paper Chef entries should be suitable for the world-wide relaunch party bloggers are throwing to celebrate the redesign of the Is My Blog Burning? site, the web event clearinghouse and discussion forum for food bloggers everywhere.
I have only been to New Orleans once, on a business trip, but I did manage to sneak away from the Convention Center with one of my workmates several times to soak up a little of the N'awlins flavor. The trip was a couple of days before Mardi Gras so revelers were warming up and there was a pleasant buzz of expectation in the air, and we ate and drank our way down Bourbon Street around midnight one night, catching a dozen live music acts along the way. I also ate at the beloved Commander's Palace, with white tablecloths and turtle soup elegance, which was a wonderful experience, but for me the essence of New Orleans food culture is in the sloppy, informal food of the street and the jazz joints: po'boy sandwiches, crawfish boil, big bowls of gumbo, jambalaya and other such delights.
With that in mind, and taking my responsibility to the IMBB relaunch party seriously as well, I set out to reinterpret the shrimp po'boy, as seen through my New England lens (I grew up in Michigan but have lived my adult life almost entirely in a one-mile-wide strip bounded by New York City, Portland, Maine and the Atlantic). Two local favorites came to mind for comparisons: the lobster roll (which was always a road food item until the recent craze for upscale versions swept through the top-rank kitchens in Manhattan) and the unique version of the hot dog served up by the world-famous joint down the road from me, Flo's Steamed Hot Dogs.
The lobster roll is a simple concoction: fresh chunks of lobster, a tiny bit of celery for crunch, and some mayonnaise, possibly slightly lemon-flavored, mixed together and mounded into a toasted hot dog bun, which must be one of those odd New England-style hot dog buns that are cut open with a long slit down the top instead of horizontally the way the rest of the world cuts them. More or less universally, the standard for excellence is the lobster roll served up at Red's Eats, a shack in Wiscasset, Maine.
Flo's dogs, while unique today, will soon be copied up and down the East Coast, especially now that Flo's homemade sauce is available commercially. The sauce and the authentic atmosphere at Flo's shack are the only features that separate Flo's dogs from any other dog. This famous sauce is a relatively hot relish made from onions, molasses and "spices," which is usually combined with mayonnaise (this is called "the Special" if you find yourself at Flo's wondering what to order). Of course, the Special is served on a New England-style bun, steamed in this case instead of toasted.
The essential characteristic of the po'boy sandwich is the crunchy French baguette that's used for the bread. Fillings can be anything from steak to fried oysters to french fries (really!), with sauces and toppings running just as wide a gamut. The cottony-soft buns of the lobster roll and hot dog always seem to me to be their weakest point, so I was happy to go towards the po'boy in this regard.
For my version of the po'boy, therefore, I used a mini-baguette for the bread, sliced from the top, of course, and for the filling I used beer-boiled shrimp (a New Orleans traditional preparation), mixed with some Hellman's mayonnaise and the tomato marmalade I invented a while back which I make in farily large batches now and then. The marmalade has a sweet/spicy tang, different from but related to Flo's sauce. The po'boy is topped with a crumble of sausage bits and finished with a grinding of black pepper and a healthy shake of the hot sauce bottle.
(I used the exquisite sweet fresh Italian sausage flavored with fennel imported to Maine from New York's Little Italy by Enoteca, the wonderful Italian specialty shop near me. I know everyone was expecting andouille but I've paired this sweet sausage with shrimp before with really satisfying results, while for me the spiciness of the andouille is a little too close to the spicy flavor this preparation imparts to the shrimp. Also, the crunchy pork bits counter nicely the softer beer-boiled shrimp, and the hot sauce bottle is always handy if more heat is needed.)
The resulting sandwich was extremely satisfying, with some cayenne power working against the sweet tang of the sauce to deliver a satisfyingly complex taste, and the crunchy bread, which soaked up a good bit of sauce without going flabby and wet (the way a Flo's dog will do if you try to get it to the beach before you eat it), delivered it all very handily to the diners, with a lot more flavor than the nearly tasteless New England hot dog buns could muster in their wildest dreams.
Beer-Boiled Shrimp Po'boy
(Makes 6 hot-dog sized sandwiches.)
2 lb small shrimp (I use the 61/70 size for this)
2 bottles dark beer or IPA
1 C white vinegar
1/4 C salt
2 T cayenne pepper
2 bay leaves
2 links sweet Italian sausage
1 C tomato marmalade (recipe below)
2 T Hellman's mayonnaise
6 mini-baguettes, sides buttered and toasted, slit open lengthwise from the top
Mix the beer, salt, cayenne, vinegar, and bay leaves and bring to a boil. Add the shrimp and boil 15 minutes. Allow to cool and peel the shrimp.
Sauté the sausage, breaking it up while it cooks, until browned. Drain on paper towel.
Mix the shrimp, the marmalade, the mayonnaise, and about half the sausage. Mound this mix into the buns and top with a scattering of sausage bits. Serve immediately, with hot sauce available.
1 lb fresh ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped
2 tsp white sugar
2 T brown sugar
1/2 medium vidalia onion, chopped
1 T water
2" cinnamon stick
1 star anise, whole
1/2 tsp coriander seed, ground
1/2 tsp cumin seed, ground
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1-1/2 tsp corn starch dissolved in 1 T cool water
salt, hot sauce to taste
In a large, heavy skillet, slowly sauté the onions, with the tablespoon of water and the white sugar, for about 8 minutes until starting to caramelize. Add the tomatoes, brown sugar, cinnamon, anise, cumin and coriander, lower heat and slowly cook for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally and adding a little water when necessary, until the tomatoes have completely broken down. Remove the cinnamon stick and star anise and discard.
Raise heat to medium, stir in the cornstarch mixture and cook for a minute or two to thicken. Add the vinegar and season to taste with salt and hot sauce.