In the South, the fried fish sandwich is part of our history. Its popularity is rooted in the Christian tradition of Lent. During this season of devotion, folks who gave up meat for the 40-day duration would eat fish or other seafood on Fridays and religious holidays. Congregations would gather for a Friday night fish fry, and the fish sandwich would take center stage. (They certainly took the term “Fry-day” to heart.)
The po’ boy is another distinctly Southern tradition, dating back to New Orleans in the late 1800s. French loaves are loaded with fried oysters, shrimp and/or fish and loaded with toppings to create the perfect seafood sandwich. The etymology of the term “po’ boy” will differ depending on who you ask, but one thing’s for sure: this sandwich is a simple, tasty fix for any growling stomach.
That’s why Chris Blankenship, director of the Alabama Marine Resources Division and program administrator for the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission (ASMC), swears by this Fried Fish Po’ Boy recipe. The folks at the ASMC always say they won’t serve you anything they wouldn’t serve their own families, and in this case, we’re glad they’re sharing that family secret.
First up, make sure you’ve got plenty of fresh-made slaw…
Tart and Tangy Cole Slaw
When it comes to a proper po’ boy, you have to make sure the dressing is more than just dressing. Often, you’ll find a po’ boy topped with lettuce, tomato, pickles, mustard and mayonnaise. But for an extra dose of flavor, plenty of folks choose to dress their po’ boys with coleslaw, and that’s what we chose to do.
A simple slaw consists of just mayonnaise, carrots and cabbage, but most slaw is prepared with a base such as vinegar or mustard. For this particular recipe, you’ll need both.
Start with a large bowl and blend the mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, salt, celery seed and sugar. (Sugar may not sound like an obvious ingredient for slaw, but it adds a hint of sweetness to balance out the bitter flavor of the cabbage and the bite of the mustard and vinegar.) Once your blend is mixed well, stir in the cabbage and red bell pepper. And if you’re feeling adventurous, add a bit of brine from the jar of Wickle’s Pickles.
Once you’ve mixed the slaw to your satisfaction, let it stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. This will allow the vegetables to wilt considerably and absorb a whole lot more flavor.
You can prepare the slaw up to one day in advance if you choose to. Just make sure to cover it and keep it refrigerated before serving it chilled or at room temperature.
Once your filets are properly cleaned and cut into sizeable portions, place them in a bowl and pour in the yellow mustard. (This may sound and look like a lot of mustard, but once the filets are fried and crispy, you’ll taste just the right amount. Also, if you’re not too keen on mustard, try buttermilk as a substitute.) Next, pour the Zatarain’s Fish-Fri into a shallow dish, then place the filets in the Fish-Fri until they’re coated on all sides.
With the filets ready to be cooked, grab a large pot or a Fry Daddy, pour in the oil and heat it up between 325 and 350 degrees. (If you’ve never done your own fish fry before, look up the proper technique ahead of time and make sure that your oil doesn’t get any hotter than 400 degrees.) Once the oil is good and hot, carefully place the filets in the oil and cook them for around 7 minutes on each side until they’re a deep, golden brown and crispy. Remove each filet and drain it on a row of paper towels to remove any excess oil.
Depending on the size of your filets, you’ll need 1 or 2 for each po’ boy. Place the filets on the French bread and top with as much Wickles Pickles and Tart and Tangy Cole Slaw as you see fit. (You can get away with any other sub-style bread, but French bread is the way to go. The soft bread on the inside of the loaf soaks up the flavors of the sandwich, and the crispy crust holds everything together on the outside.)
Once your po’ boys are ready, serve them up with your favorite side, a cold drink and a big gathering of friends and family.