Mike Gulotta and Alex Harrell are two of New Orleans’ best young chefs. These gentlemen agree that the New Orleans Po’ Boy is the world’s greatest sandwich. They disagree, however, about which po’ boy is best. The following has been condensed from Mike and Alex’s email debate over whether the hot sausage po’ boy or the fried shrimp po’ boy is best in the land.
Mike Gulotta, MoPho — New Orleans, LA 514 City Park Ave.; (504) 482-6845; mophonola.com
There are so many delicious po’ boys that I, of course, still cycle through a few. Half-oyster half-shrimp still calls my name on a regular basis, and I reserve the fried eggplant with red gravy at Liuzza’s for special occasions. But it is the unassuming hot sausage patty po’ boy (not link) that makes it’s way into my hands more than any other.
When I was a kid, seafood po’ boys were typically reserved for Lenten Fridays, apparently as some form of punishment!?! I don’t believe that any normal New Orleanian child realized that they were “going without” during Lent; it was always more of a celebration. Leave it to us NOLA folk to turn a penance into a party. But still, it left me with the feeling that seafood po’ boys were luxury items and so I still consume them on an infrequent basis.
Another group of local favorites, the sloppy roast beef, and it’s offspring, the French Fry and the Surf and Turf, are serious contenders with throngs of adoring fans. This family of po’ boy slips down the list because they are the most inconsistent. A well-made roast beef po’ boy is a beautiful thing to behold, but it must be searched out. Only specific shops can be trusted with the claim of a great roast beef po’ boy. The beef has to have that perfect consistency, not too thick, which causes dry spots in the center of the chunks, but not overcooked and shredded, which doesn’t hold the gravy as well. It has to be that perfect pull, and the gravy has to have that deep richness; thick enough to hold the juicy strands of beef together without being gloopy, or worst of all, watery.
Once again, the unwavering hot sausage patty out-corners and out-maneuvers. As long as those patties are made by or purchased from a reputable source, anyone can be trusted to crisp them up in a cast iron pan, on a griddle or even over the flames of a grill, and then shove them between some toasted bread with a slather of Blue Plate Mayonnaise and, if you’re lucky, some shredded iceberg and a tomato slice, and it is significant to point out that it is the only po’ boy that does not typically require the addition of hot sauce.
Mike, your argument is poignant and eloquent and if I were a man of lesser convictions I might be swayed by the personal stories that have connected you to the hot sausage po’ boy. I however, am not that man. I am not going to argue against other po’ boys, I wont throw others down in order to elevate my point. I don’t have to. I simply am going to share the gospel of the fried shrimp po’ boy.
Mike, you argument is based on commonality, convenience, and utilitarianism. Mine is driven by crispy, golden fried glory. I’m talking about the marriage of a delicately seasoned batter and sweet Gulf shrimp. Bound together in a union of sweet and savory succulence, and baptized by hot oil to yield the perfect po’ boy stuffing.
As you say, anyone can toss a frozen patty in to a hot pan to satisfy a basic need for substance, but it takes a keen attention to detail to properly batter and fry shrimp. Too much breading and the shrimp are lost, too little and they wont achieve that crispness that we all crave. It’s the nuance of proper breading that yield truly artful results. You simply can’t get that textural contrast with a sausage patty. The crunch as you bite down into the hot shrimp with the juiciness of ripe tomato, coolness of shredded lettuce, and added brace of spice and acid from hot sauce is incomparable.
MG: Well, at least we now know which one of us is the elitist and which one of us is the defender of the common man.
To be fair, I was inadvertently programmed to think this way. When my mom was taking night classes and my brother and I were in college/high school, it was much easier for her to keep a case of Patton’s hot sausage in the freezer for us to live off of when we had no time to cook dinner. Which further enforces the point that the hot sausage po’ boy is the everyday friend of the South Louisiana native.
I would wager that it is easier to find everything you need in a local’s home to make a delicious hot sausage po’ boy more than any other, only because every New Orleanian has a pack of hot sausage patties somewhere. Whether it is front and center in the kitchen freezer, ready for everyday use, or buried under a few bags of redfish fillets and head-off shrimp, it is there. Possibly it’s been forgotten, or maybe it’s just held in reserve for that day when someone forgets to pick up smoked sausage to serve with the red beans (we regularly served hot sausage patties with our red beans in my family for as long as I can remember).
I understand that this seems like a harsh critique of so many beloved members of the po’ boy community, but the point is not to say that they are bad po’ boys. My words are only an emphatic argument for the simple strengths of the humble hot sausage patty po’ boy. Its adaptability and ease of preparation, inherently rousing flavor, and lusciously fatty texture, set it at the top of the hill: steadfast, reliable, delicious.
AH: Haha, and we know who resorts to name calling when their backs are against the wall.
It is not just the food traditions of South Louisiana that make it special but also the access to pristine Gulf seafood. Nowhere else in the country does the consumption of seafood have such a major impact on the economy and communities. Generations of shrimpers and fisherman have helped to drive and sustain this region with their work. Their bounty brings us together in backyards and restaurants, and helps to define our cuisine.
No other city shares this type of connection to seafood and specifically shrimp, as does New Orleans. It is iconic, from remoulade and bbq to gumbo and etouffee. It defines our cuisine and the way that we all cook and eat. What started from meager beginnings, the fried shrimp po’ boy is now rightly celebrated as uniquely New Orleanian.
For these reasons, the “humble” hot sausage patty does not ascend the throne to be crowned The King of Po’ Boys. That title is reserved for the Fried Shrimp.