NEW ORLEANS: Americans' penchant for consuming meals stuffed into
loaves of bread is well documented. The grinder of New England is a
cousin to the hoagie of Philadelphia and both are kissin' kin to the
ubiquitous submarine. But in the sandwich equivalent of the Social
Register, none ranks higher than the poor boy (or po' boy) of New
Orleans and the pride of that family is the oyster poor boy.

Watch a local eat one in a restaurant! There's no gobbling, no gush of sauce
or cascade of stuffing from the sandwich, no talking with the mouth full.
Instead, the pace of eating is measured, the chewing thoughtful, the sigh
after the final bite appreciative and satisfied.

And why not? New Orleans, the ``Big Easy,'' is among the most sensual of

It also has a bread fixation. Natives often start their day with pain
perdu and end it with bread pudding. A sandwich at midday, made with
the city's distinctive French bread, bespeaks of continuity.

For its part, the mysterious oyster, with its five-star aphrodisiac
rating, is among the most sensual of foods. Properly fried, it
provides sweet-salty and crisp-creamy contrasts that are downright

Certainly residents are remarkably faithful to their favorite poor boy
purveyors, jealously defending the attributes of one restaurant's
version and joyfully denigrating its rivals. Their detailed
recommendations and advice will soon convince a visitor that this is
the most pro-active eating town in the universe.

In addition, the quirky variations in sandwiches at such time-honored poor
boy emporiums as Casamento's, Domilise's, Franky & Johnny's, Uglesich's
and Mother's encourage debate. These places tend to be small and scruffy
with limited menus. But the poor boy cognoscenti demand more than

For instance, a visitor in search of a superior sandwich would be
advised to estimate the distance between his table and the kitchen or
counter where the poor boys are prepared. If it is more than 10 paces,
or if there is a heat lamp on the counter to keep cooked oysters warm,
a local would cancel his order. This is because the first rule of
oyster enjoyment is to minimize the time between cooking and consuming
the delicate bivalve. (Which is why you should never purchase an
oyster poor boy to carry out and eat later.)

The poor boy sandwich was born in 1929, according to local folk historian
Buddy Stall.

``The catalyst,'' he explains, ``was a long and bitter strike by local
transit workers. Two brothers named Martin took pity on those `poor
boys,' the out-of-work streetcar drivers and conductors. They began
offering sandwiches made from leftovers to any workers who came to
their restaurant's back door at the end of the day. For five cents, a
striker could buy a sandwich filled with gravy and `debris' (trimmings
and end pieces from beef roasts) or gravy and sliced potatoes.''

Soon the sandwich, which quickly became known as the poor boy, was
being filled with seafood, most notably fried oysters and fried shrimp. Its
popularity has continued to the present moment.

In those now distant days, shellfish was abundant and cheap. The
affluent joined the crowd because, at lunch or snack time, a poor boy
filled with oysters was quicker to consume and easier to digest than
one filled with roast beef. Also, no nutritional stigma was attached
to deep frying and, Stall points out, ``the edict against eating meat
on Fridays and during Lent was taken seriously'' in a strongly Roman
Catholic city.

Finally, the sandwich was -- and is -- widely available. Not only do the
ingredients and condiments employed in building a poor boy make a
magical combination of taste and texture, the sandwich is so easy to
assemble that storefront sandwich shops with no culinary pretension could
offer the oyster poor boy as a specialty.

Why has it -- and the entire po'boy category for that matter -- remained so

``I don't know,'' says Patti Domilise of the family that has operated
Domilise's Po-boys for more than half a century. ``There's no secret.
Everything's fresh and we cook from scratch. That's all.''

This sandwich is purely American in its variety of sauces and
condiments. It is uniquely New Orleans because the oysters are local,
as is the remarkably crisp and airy bread, as distinctive as the
sourdough of San Francisco.

Consider these other ingredients:

Fat: Corn, peanut or canola oil have become prevalent, but Casamento's
still uses pure lard.

Sauce: Do you prefer red or white? Red is, far too often, merely
ketchup, doctored and thinned with lemon juice, horseradish and
perhaps a few drops of hot pepper sauce. White sauce has a base of
mayonnaise that may be unadorned or may contain chopped pickle or
mustard. Barbecue sauce has its advocates, but is far too assertive
for a true oyster lover. Usually, the amount of sauce on a sandwich is
modest: just a light coating on the bread.

Lettuce: Iceberg is the overwhelming choice here. It provides crunch and
acts as a pillow or blanket for the oysters.

Tomato: This seems to be the most dubious garnish of all. Out of
season, the flavorless, thin-cut slices add only pale color; in
season, they may make the sandwich soggy and watery.

Pickles: Usually three or four sliced dill pickle chips or rounds are
the last addition; more slices may be served on the side.

Lemon wedges and hot pepper sauce: Optional and very acceptable
additions if applied with restraint.

Oyster poor boys -- so accessible, still relatively inexpensive and
somewhat messy to make -- are more frequently ordered in restaurants
than prepared at home. It's done, though, both for the family and for

The recipes that follow include two preparations of fried oysters and two
different sauces.

Whichever version you choose, here's how to put together a poor boy:

Purchase or make 1 small loaf of French bread (about 8 inches long)
per person. Cut each loaf in half horizontally and pull out some of
the bread in the interior.

Paint the inside of the loaf with one of the sauces and top one side
with eight freshly fried oysters.

Place shredded lettuce, two or three thin slices of tomato and two or
three slices of pickle on the oysters. Cover with the other side of
the loaf and attack immediately.

3cups vegetable oil or lard

 1/2 cup masa harina, see note
 1/2 tsp. salt
 1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper

32plump oysters, freshly shucked, well drained

Heat oil in medium saucepan until hot but not smoking, about 350 degrees.

Mix masa harina, salt and pepper in shallow bowl. Roll oysters in seasoned
mixture; shake off excess.

Place oysters in oil in batches. Cook until light golden brown and
oysters rise to surface, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove oysters with slotted
spoon; drain on paper towels.

Place oysters on prepared bread for poor boys. Repeat process until
desired number of sandwiches has been made. Serve at once.

Makes enough oysters for 4 sandwiches

Note: Masa harina is flour made from dried masa (ground corn). It can be
found in the baking or Hispanic food sections of most supermarkets.

Nutrition information per 8 oysters: 790 calories (48 percent from fat),
41 grams carbohydrates, 42 grams fat, 305 milligrams cholesterol, 59
grams protein, 935 milligrams sodium.

3cups vegetable oil or lard
1large egg, beaten
1cup milk
1/2tsp. hot pepper sauce
1cup cracker crumbs
32plump oysters, freshly shucked, well drained

Heat oil in medium saucepan until hot but not smoking, about 350 degrees.

Combine egg, milk and hot pepper sauce in shallow bowl. Add additional
hot sauce to taste. Pour crumbs into separate bowl.

Dip oysters in milk mixture, roll in crumbs; shake off excess.

Place oysters in oil in batches. Cook until golden brown and oysters
rise to surface, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove oysters with slotted spoon;
drain on paper towels.

Place oysters on prepared bread for poor boys. Repeat process until
desired number of sandwiches has been made. Serve at once.

Makes enough oysters for 4 sandwiches.

Nutrition information per 8 oysters: 845 calories (49 percent from fat),
44 grams carbohydrates, 45 grams fat, 360 milligrams cholesterol, 62
milligrams protein, 905 milligrams sodium.


 1/3 cup Creole or Dijon mustard
 1/4 cup finely chopped drained capers
2 tbsp. each: finely chopped parsley, mayonnaise
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
 1/2 tsp. each: dry mustard, prepared cream-style horseradish
 1/4 tsp. salt or to taste

Freshly ground pepper
1hard-cooked egg, coarsely chopped

Stir together mustard, capers, parsley, mayonnaise, lemon juice,
Worcestershire, dry mustard and horseradish in small bowl.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Fold in chopped egg.

Makes 1 cup.

Nutrition information per tablespoon: 23 calories (83 percent from fat),
0.3 grams carbohydrates, 1.7 grams fat, 15 milligrams cholesterol, 0.5
grams protein, 245 milligrams sodium.

-- Adapted from The Commander's Palace New Orleans Cookbook.

1small onion, grated
1cup good-quality chili sauce
2tbsp. each: finely chopped parsley, prepared horseradish
2tsp. lemon juice
1/8tsp. celery seeds
Freshly ground pepper, hot pepper sauce

Combine onion, chili sauce, parsley, horseradish, lemon juice, celery
seeds and pepper to taste in small bowl. Stir until thoroughly mixed.
Add hot pepper sauce to taste.

Makes 1 cup.

Nutrition information per tablespoon: 17 calories (16 percent from fat),
3.5 grams carbohydrates, 0.3 grams fat, 0.5 milligrams cholesterol, 0.4
grams protein, 180 milligrams sodium.

-- Adapted from Creole Gumbo and All That Jazz, by Howard Mitcha


Opening oysters takes a little experience. If you
don't have an oyster knife, use one with a strong
stainless steel blade. Knives not made specifically
for the job may break, and metals other than
stainless steel might leave the taste of metal on the
oyster. Wear a heavy glove to protect your hand
from cuts. After scrubbing under cold running
water, hold the oyster firmly with one hand,
rounded side down so less liquid is lost when
opened. Insert the blade of the knife between the
shells, near the hinge. Twist the blade to open the
shells, then cut the muscle joining the shells
together. Slip the blade underneath the oyster to
detach it from the shell. Remove any pieces of shell
stuck on the oyster.

Steaming them for a few seconds or heating them in
a medium oven for about 30 seconds might make
them a little easier to open (the heat softens the
adductor muscle). Never soak oysters in water,
because they can die if they open and their liquid
drains out.

Oysters are often served raw or deep-fried in the
South and are a common addition to soups,
casseroles, and dressings. The following recipe is
typical of many Southern fried oyster recipes.


           Can be prepared in 45 minutes or less.

           For tartar sauce
           1 cup mayonnaise
           1/4 cup minced sweet pickle
           1 hard-boiled large egg, forced through a coarse sieve
           2 tablespoons minced shallot
           2 tablespoons drained bottled capers
           1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried tarragon
           2 tablespoons Creole or Dijon mustard
           2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
           1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

           24 shucked oysters, drained
           yellow cornmeal, seasoned with freshly ground black pepper and cayenne,
           for coating
           vegetable oil for deep-frying
           2 loaves soft-crusted French bread
           sliced tomatoes
           shredded iceberg lettuce

           Make tartar sauce:
           In a small bowl stir together sauce ingredients.

           In a heavy-duty plastic bag, working in batches of 6, coat oysters with cornmeal, knocking off
           excess. In a heavy kettle heat 1 1/2 inches of oil to 375°F. on a deep-fat thermometer and fry
           oysters in batches of 6, turning occasionally, until golden and just cooked through, about 1 1/2
           minutes. Transfer oysters with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain.

           Halve loaves crosswise and horizontally, cutting all the way through and spread each piece with
           about 2 tablespoons tartar sauce. Divide tomatoes, lettuce, and oysters among bottom pieces of
           bread and top with remaining bread, pressing together gently.

           Makes 4 san