The first time I went to New Orleans, it was my birthday. My twenty-something birthday. I don’t remember which. Malcolm and I were living in New York and in the process of getting back together after an awful/awesome summer apart. He wanted to impress me. And so he surprised me with a trip. A weekend at a fancy hotel where we would fill the jetted tub with soap bubbles and drink champagne on the balcony. We strolled in the Garden District, making plans to live in a storied house, and drank hurricanes and French 75s in the Quarter, listened to jazz in the dark, danced in the streets, rode the trolley, visited the cemetery, looked at paintings of a dog that were popular at the time, and all the things you do on a first visit to that haunted, sinking city. We had celebratory bananas foster for dessert after etoufee, and got into a terrible fight for reasons I cannot disclose here. It was a marvelous, fabulous, dramatic, romantic adventure. We ate beignets at the airport with one last tipple before boarding our plane home. Oh, but we never got around to getting po’ boys. The first time I had one of those was a different trip altogether.
We were staying with his parents at their house in the panhandle of Florida. It was one of those great little Southern houses that’s always disappearing into the swampy earth. It was so charming and lovely and warm. Mostly, we sat by the pool and watched the dogs frolic on the lawn and sipped bloody marys and read and ate and ate. One afternoon, we picked up a Santa-sized sack of oysters from a roadhouse. His dad immediately used the knife on his hip to open one up, and dared me without saying a word. I swallowed the slimy bivalve and asked for another, quivering. We went on to have many dozens of Gulf oysters on that vacation. And by the time I was done, I think I actually enjoyed them. Mostly raw, with Saltines and lots of hot sauce.
But a fried oyster is a truly splendid thing. You use cornmeal and flour to achieve a crunchy exterior, and thus coated and cooked in very hot oil, the slippery shellfish turns creamy and rich. You need a roll that is soft but has a slight crunch to its crust. And this remoulade is awfully good. I love whizzing up a bunch of salty, spicy, strong condiments in mayo, and slathering it on everything. You could dip your shoes in this stuff. I bought these oysters from our local fish market, already shucked. Po’ boys are a perfect way to celebrate absolutely nothing.
Oyster Po’ Boy Sandwiches with Spicy Remoulade
Adapted from a recipe by Sunny Anderson; Makes two sandwiches
For the oysters:
- 12-16 shucked oysters
- 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon milk
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup cornmeal
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
- Vegetable oil
- 2 hoagie rolls
- Mixed lettuce greens
- Wedges of lemon
For the remoulade:
- 1 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon capers
- 1 tablespoon pickle juice
- 1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
- 1 teaspoon ground mustard seeds
- 1 garlic clove, smashed
- 1/8 teaspoon paprika
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon Frank’s Red Hot sauce
For the oysters:
Drain the shucked oysters then soak them in 1 cup of milk for 15 minutes, then drain. Meanwhile, in a medium-sized bowl combine eggs, 1 tablespoon milk, water, and vinegar. In a large brown bag combine flour, cornmeal, salt, pepper, and cayenne. In a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat, start to heat the vegetable oil. Pour drained oysters into the liquid mixture. Use a fork to transfer oysters to the bag of combined dry ingredients and shake. When the oil has reached 360 degrees, carefully submerge 4-5 oysters in the hot pot. Do not overcrowd. Fry for 3 minutes, turning once. Drain on a paper bag or paper towels.
For the remoulade:
Zip all ingredients together in a food processor and chill for at least an hour before serving.
To serve, split open the hoagie rolls and spread both sides with remoulade. Add 6-8 oysters to each roll and cover with a layer of lettuce. Serve with a squeeze of lemon.