A fish po' boy is an upgrade from any regular fish sandwich.
Let’s start with the French bread. It’s magic—soft, chewy, and everything you want in sandwich bread. The bread is stuffed with crispy cornmeal crusted fish, fresh chopped lettuce, thick tomato slices, dill pickles, and a remoulade sauce that has all of the spice and some texture from celery and relish.
A sandwich that tastes fresh, with both crispy and creamy elements? Sign me up! The best part is, this is easy enough to make on a weeknight but also fancy it up for the weekend get together! How can you make a sandwich fancy, you ask? Make a build your own sandwich board for a crowd.
You can lay out the fried fish, lettuce, tomatoes, condiments in a little jar, and allow people to create their own fish po' boys. Serve it with a bowl of chips and dip or even a simple side salad and you’re all set. Traditionally, it is served with French fries. Your options are endless.
Origins of a Po’ Boy
The Po’ Boy originated in New Orleans during the Great Depression of the 1920s when the general population struggled to afford food for their families.
The Martin brothers, Benny and Clovis, decided to feed streetcar drivers who were on strike. The cheapest and easiest way to feed so many people was a half loaf of French bread stuffed with anything from roast beef to oysters, and the sandwich was referred to as a Poor Boy, shortened nowadays to Po’ Boy or Po’boy.
The Martin brothers were streetcar conductors, which is why they were compelled to feed streetcar workers on strike. They later opened their own restaurant in the French Market called Martin Brothers Coffee Stand and Restaurant.
The sandwich has remained a staple of New Orleans culture for nearly a century now. Any street you walk down in NOLA has signs for po’ boys.
There are also a lot of “fusion” po’ boys out there. Viet-Cajun style cooking and po’ boy has been a major trend down in New Orleans. At Banh Mi Boys’ original location in the deli attached to the Texaco station in Metairie, Nguyen offers a banh mi po’ boy with your choice of Vietnamese ham, meatballs, or grilled pork and it gets topped with cilantro, pickled carrots, daikon, and cucumber.
The Best Fish for Po’ Boys
Use catfish for a true Louisiana Fish Po’ Boy. We like it sliced thin and double battered to give it the right amount of crunch. Luckily, we have many fresh seafood markets here in New Orleans. I can purchase catfish filleted for me, cut as thin or thick as I may want. If you’re purchasing fish from a fishmonger, make sure you purchase catfish fillets, which is what you’ll need for this sandwich.
I know some areas have an abundance of fish markets, while others don’t. Don’t worry, this recipe is flexible. Fresh or frozen fillets will work—make it with whatever you can find at your local grocery store or fishmonger.
Here are some tips for purchasing the freshest fish:
- If you are buying whole fresh fish, make sure the fish does not smell fishy and the eyes are clear.
- If you are purchasing fish fillets, make sure they are not yellow on the ends of the fish. The fish should be a white-pinkish color and it should not look dried out.
- If you can’t find catfish, cod or tilapia will also work
Tips and Tricks for Frying Crispy Fish
This is an easy recipe. The most complicated part is frying the fish. Everything else is just about putting the sandwich together. Prep your lettuce and tomatoes, make your sauce, and lay your ingredients out before you start frying fish and building your sandwich.
Here are a few tips and tricks for making perfectly fried fish:
- Make sure to keep your oil at 350°F. This is the perfect temp for frying fish—it will allow your fish to cook inside, while it will allow your batter to stay crisp, but not burn.
- Double dredge the cornmeal. It will keep the fish crispy once you slather it with remoulade sauce.
- For the fish, you’ll make a batter that you’ll coat the fish in before frying.
- This batter is comparable to a “fish and chips” style batter; however, it is slightly different. Fish and chips style has a wet batter, which makes for a “fluffy” coating on the fish. This is a little more “stick to the fish” type of batter, also a little crispier.
- Allow your batter to rest, 20 minutes would be sufficient.
- Allowing the batter to rest will help it stick to the fish so it will not “chip” off after you fry it.
To properly drain the fish and keep it crispy you should:
- Take a cookie sheet and line it with paper towels
- Place a cooling rack on top (it has slots so the grease will drain, and the fish won’t sit in it and become soggy.)
How to Keep Fried Fish Warm Before Serving
You can keep your fish warm by:
- Take a cookie sheet and line it with paper towels. Place a cooling rack on top (it has slots so the grease will drain, and the fish won’t sit in it and become soggy.)
- Put into the oven at 275°F.
- Place the fish on top as you fry it.
You do risk your fish becoming dry this way. Personally, for a Po’ Boy, I don’t find the fish needs to be piping hot out the fryer, so you may just want to set it aside until you make the sandwich.
Making a Remoulade Sauce
Remoulade sauce is basically a fancier mayonnaise with spices. This recipe combines spices that are traditional to New Orleans such as Slap Ya Mama Cajun seasoning along with mayo, heavy cream, garlic powder, hot sauce, relish, paprika, creole mustard, horseradish, green onion, celery, and cayenne pepper.
Po Boy Swaps, Substitutions, and Variations
Here are some swaps and subs and variations on a traditional Po’ boy.
- Using mayonnaise or tartar sauce instead of remoulade sauce
- Change the amount of spice in the remoulade or batter by:
- Adding more cayenne for an extra kick
- Take out the celery if you simple don’t like the texture or taste
- Don’t like it spicy? Don’t add it! This is a recipe for you, adjust to your taste. Don’t be afraid to test your batter.
Add your favorite sandwich ingredients such as
- Sliced onions
Make your own Cajun Seasoning if you cannot find Slap Ya Mama or another Cajun seasoning locally. When making my own, I typically use John Besh’s Cajun seasoning mix which is a combination of celery salt, sweet paprika, sea salt, ground black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper, and ground allspice.
Leftovers, Storage, and Make Ahead
Po’ boys are best made and eaten on the same day. You want the bread to be as fresh as possible and after you fry your fish you want to have a CRISPY fish sandwich, not a soggy one.
You can also prep some items ahead of time:
- Cut up your lettuce, place in a zip top bag with a paper towel to absorb any moisture.
- Slice tomato and keep it in the fridge, in a bowl.
- Cut up onions and place in the fridge until ready to use.
- Portion out pickles so they are easily ready to go!
- You can make the remoulade sauce a day or two in advance and store it in the fridge until you’re ready to use.
More NOLA Recipes to Try
Fish Po’ Boy
- For the remoulade sauce
- 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
- 1/3 cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon Louisiana hot sauce or tabasco
- 1 teaspoon sweet pickle relish
- 2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning, such as Slap Ya Mama Cajun seasoning
- 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
- 1/4 cup creole mustard, spicy brown mustard, or Dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons horseradish
- 3 tablespoons green onions, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup celery, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, plus more to taste
- For the catfish
- Canola oil for frying, approximately 3-4 cups
- 3 pounds catfish fillets
- 2 cups yellow cornmeal
- 1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 4 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon water
- To serve
- 2 loaves of French bread
- 3 cups iceberg lettuce, shredded
- 1 cup Dill pickle rounds
- 3 beefsteak tomatoes, sliced
- 1 onion, sliced into rings
Set a baking rack over a sheet pan and set aside
Make the remoulade sauce:
In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, heavy cream, garlic powder, hot sauce, sweet relish, Slap Ya Mama seasoning, paprika, mustard, horseradish, green onions, celery, and cayenne pepper. Taste and add more cayenne pepper, if desired. Set aside until ready to use.
Set up dredging station:
In a large bowl, combine the cornmeal, Cajun seasoning, and cayenne pepper. In another large bowl whisk to combine the eggs and water.
Set the two bowls side by side. You will start with the cornmeal mixture.
Dredge the fish:
Dip both sides of the fish into cornmeal mixture. Then, dip the fish into the egg mixture and let any excess drip off. Dip the fish back into the cornmeal mixture and coat both sides for a double coating. Set the breaded fish on the sheet pan lined with a baking rack until you are ready to fry. Repeat until all of the fish is coated.
Preheat the oil:
Fill a large Dutch oven (or a heavy skillet) with at least 3 inches of oil in your pot and heat over medium-high heat, until the oil reaches 350°F on a thermometer.
Fry the fish:
Carefully put each fish filet into the hot oil. Fry the fish, until golden brown and crisp, roughly 3 to 4 minutes on each side, flipping halfway through cooking. This time can vary depending on the thickness of your fish, but you will be able to tell by the golden color on the outside.
Assemble your sandwiches:
Split open the French bread. Slather the remoulade on the inside of both sides of the bread. Layer the bread with lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, sliced onions, and fried fish. Assemble the remaining sandwiches. Cut sandwiches into desired portions.
Serve fish po’ boys with fries, chips, or a salad!
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