Back in the day, before I started eating low sodium/heart healthy, a trip to New Orleans meant that I looked forward to eating two infamous sandwiches: the po’boy and the muffuletta. Just thinking about these sandwiches used to make my mouth water. In today’s post, we’re tracing the origins of these two famous New Orleans sandwiches, and we’ll walk you through a healthy version of one of them.
The po’boy is cornerstone of New Orleans cuisine made famous by Benny and Clovis Martin, two Acadian brothers and former street car conductors turned sandwich shop owners. During a railway workers strike in 1929, the two brothers vowed to feed their former coworkers, gratis (free) – pledging “We are with you ’til h– –l freezes, and when it does, we will furnish blankets to keep you warm”. Martin Brothers’ Coffee Stand & Restaurant gave out a lot of free sandwiches: the strike and the Martin’s pledge to stand by their former colleagues and feed the striking workers lasted for several months. The striking railway workers quickly adopted the nickname, “poor boy” and whenever one approached the Martin Brothers’ sandwich shop, a local would holler out, “here comes another poor boy,” – or, po’ boy in New Orleans dialect. The po’boy nickname quickly became synonymous with the actual (and formerly free) sandwich itself, and the name stuck.
Today, the po’boy is a complex submarine-like sandwich stacked with many different layers of culinary genius. Individually ingredient by ingredient, and in its entirety, biting into a hot po’ boy sandwich is an experience like no other. The New Orleans po’ boy is notably distinguished by its use of “New Orleans French bread” — a crispy crust and a light, fluffy interior — French bread made most famous by a (Deidesheim) German immigrant, George Leidenheimer. Leidenheimer founded his New Orleans’ institution, the Leidenheimer Baking Company, in 1896 — and it’s as they say, “good to the last crumb”. And that’s just the first layer.
Between the bread, the po’ boy can include a plethora of goodies. Typical concoctions include breaded fried shrimp, catfish or oysters. The “combination” includes hot roast beef, ham, gravy and cheese. My favorites are the fried oyster or grilled chicken po’boy, dressed, easy on the mayo. “Dressed” means added lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise. As you can start to see, with all of these ingredients, the po’boy can easily be a heart-stopper – but we’ve found healthier ways to lighten the load (stay tuned). You can get po’ boys with grilled chicken or fish, and vegetarian sandwiches. They’re made to order, so you can choose healthier options.
By contrast, the muffulleta (pronounced “moo-foo-LET-ta”) is just flat out scary.
Created in the early 1900s, Sicilian farmers working at the nearby farmer’s market would stop by the French Quarter’s Central Grocery Store and separately order salami, ham, cheese, olive salad and either Italian bread or a round muffuletta loaf for lunch. Watching the farmers eat all of these ingredients separately and in a rather clumsy fashion, Salvatore Lupo, the store owner, envisioned a more efficient way to eat: slicing the muffuletta loaf horizontally and piling everything on. Voila — the muffuletta was born! It’s one of the most well known sandwiches in the French Quarter, with people lining up around the block just for a taste.
Here’s why the muffuletta scares me: each sandwich contains approximately 3170 calories, 231g of fat and 9880mg of sodium. Merely looking at one causes my blood pressure to soar. To be fair though, people seem to only eat a half or quarter of a sandwich, but a quarter of a muffuletta is still 2470mg of sodium. All I can say is when you’re in New Orleans, strongly consider resisting this temptation. It’s only a cold cut sandwich.
Having said all of this, just talking about New Orleans and po’ boys got us craving them. Before I knew it, Johanna was preparing her delicious low-sodium French bread and creating the delectable po’ boy sandwich seen in the photo (top).
So now, there’s no need to miss-out on this New Orleans classic! Here’s how to do it without piling on the sodium:
1. Bread – If you feel ambitious (as we did), you can make your own low-sodium French bread.
2. Inside: Pecan Crusted Cajun (Breaded) Oysters
3.Dressed. Add tomatoes, Celery Root (Celeriac and Radicchio) Remoulade, and (optionally) low sodium mayo:
4. Then imagine yourself sitting on the veranda at a Louisiana Plantation, eating your po’boy… drinking lemonade, and enjoying the good life. .. (better hop to it and get cooking!)