Photos by Gian Valdivia.
When I think of what defines a high-quality sandwich, I tend to gravitate toward the classics, which typically have minimal ingredients: pastrami and swiss on rye, ham and cheddar, or of course—one of my favorites—the BLT. The key to these classic sandwiches is that they're simple, yet timeless, and they allow the ingredients to speak for themselves.
Enter, the po’ boy.
What separates this classic sandwich from the others is the flexibility of the ingredients. Originating, of course, from New Orleans (read about Anne’s trip earlier this year here), there are clearly cultural influences that must be respected (like fried seafood), but for the most part, there is a lot of room to play around with it, which excites me. While your tried-and-true, traditional po’ boy is likely served via a pillowy French baguette with chopped iceberg lettuce, tomato, mayo and fried shrimp—depending on your geography—there’s no denying these are the backbone layers of this ‘Nawlins favorite:
The Bread: Traditionally, this is always a French-style baguette.
The Meat: Fried seafood such as shrimp, crawfish, fish and oysters are most common. However, pretty much any living sea creature that can be battered and fried is fair game.
The Fixins: These include lettuce, tomato, pickles, mayonnaise, spicy aioli, creole mustard, remoulade or really anything with a zing, a zang, a punch or a crunch.
While honoring the legacy of the beloved po' boy, I wanted to bring a unique Virginia Beach spin by highlighting our prized Chesapeake Bay softshell crab. Softshell crabs, if you're unfamiliar, refer to the blue crabs that are farmed after having molted their exoskeleton, leaving behind a soft and edible shell. They are a true delicacy of the Chesapeake Bay and can be found at most local seafood markets and specialty grocery stores, like Whole Foods, from May through the end of September. We found ours at the Old Beach Farmers Market from vendor Jubilee Seafood Company.
Most recipes you'll see involve heavily battered seafood, however I prefer not to use batter and to instead lightly dust with a nice, coarse flour like semolina. In this sandwich, we pair the softshell with some local heirloom tomatoes (from Cromwell's Produce), then smear on a spicy homemade remoulade. The result is an undeniably delicious East Coast take on this sacred sandwich.
Softshell Crab Po' Boy with Heirloom Tomatoes
I N G R E D I E N T S
14–16-inch French baguette (the fresher and softer, the better)
3 softshell crabs
1 large handful arugula
1 medium heirloom tomato, sliced thick
salt and pepper
Juice of half a lemon
For the crabs
1/2 cup semolina flour
2 Tbsp Old Bay
1 tsp salt
1 cup mayo
1/4 cup sriracha
1 Tbsp Old Bay
1 tsp cayenne
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Juice of half a lemon
M E T H O D
Mix the flour, Old Bay and salt together, and spread on a plate. Pat the crabs dry with a paper towel, then dunk into the seasoning, lightly dusting all areas of the crabs. Lightly shake excess seasoning off of crabs. Set aside.
Heat pan on medium heat. Once hot, add a few dashes of olive oil to lightly cover the pan, then a slice of butter. A few minutes later, once the oil is hot and shimmering, add the crabs. Sauté for about 1.5 to 2 minutes a side, spooning the melted butter over the crabs, until browned on both sides. Set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together all the ingredients for the remoulade into a thick sauce. Transfer remoulade to the fridge to chill and allow the flavors to marry.
Cut the baguette in half (longways) and carve out the insides slightly. Spread olive oil on the insides and lightly toast the bread in the oven or preferably on the grill to give it a nice char.
Take the two pieces of baguette slices and generously spread the remoulade all over the inside. In three layers, evenly spread the arugula over the bottom slice of bread, followed by thick slices of tomato. Salt and pepper the tomatoes. Next, add the softshell crabs. Squirt lemon juice onto the crabs, then add a dash of salt. Add the other baguette slice on top, then slice it into three individual sandwiches so that each contains a whole crab. Serve with a side salad, if you’d like, then dive right in!