I am a big fan of Cajun & Creole food. Cajuns are some of my favorite people in the world - for not only their contributions to the food and general culture, but also for their simple and no-nonsense approach to life in general. I love the way they speak, I love their food, and I love the way they are steeped in history, tradition, mythology and superstition. My beloved friend Paige's family are from Carencro, LA - just the other side of Lafayette. Carencro is the heart of Acadiana, and time with Paige and her family has been directly responsible for some of my favorite memories and been at the top of the list for all-time best road trips. Each time I've visited Louisiana I seek out the places I love, not just New Orleans and Lafayette but also in Carencro and the amazing butcher shop I wished I could have spent a thousand dollars in. They had giant mushrooms stuffed with fresh hot sausage made on the premises, dusted with cayenne and paprika - OH MY GOD they were amazing, we ate them right out of the oven still on the broiler pan - they never even made it to the table. Pork roasts stuffed with peppers, onions, celery, collectively known in Cajun cookery as 'the trinity', all spiked with cayenne pepper and other spices and flavorings like oregano, thyme, garlic, white and black pepper, paprika, onion powder, and bay leaf. The absolute BEST andouille and boudin sausages I've ever tasted in my life, bar none.
PoBoys are just awesome. It's ultimate comfort food on French bread, where very homey food and sandwiches intersect. I loved the crawfish one I had at Cafe Pontalba on Jackson Square in the French Quarter, which was loaded down with plump, fat, succulent fried crawfish tails, piled high with remoulade (Louisiana's version of tartar sauce, only much better - this particular version was the mayonnaise based one, not the ketchup based one similar to cocktail sauce) on a baguette with shredded lettuce and thick Creole tomato slices, which really are unlike any other tomato on Earth. My favorite though, is an authentic roast beef poboy like the one I first had in Lafayette, LA while visiting family/friends there. For me, the mark of a really good roast beef poboy is fork tender roast beef swimming in a thick, well seasoned gravy on fresh French bread, and you have to have shredded cabbage on it like they do in Acadiana. Remember, it's going to be messy and you're likely to have gravy running up and down both arms, so remember to let the dog out before you sit down to eat or you won't get a moment's peace. Just trust me on this. It's better to get started on this the day before so the roux can be made ahead and the beef a good time to marinate in the spice rub, and the best time to have these incredible sandwiches is on an occasion like Superbowl Sunday.
A few tips before we get started, first one on the roux. For those unaware, a roux is a mixture or flour and fat, usually vegetable oil, cooked together over medium high heat until a desired color is reached. You should ideally do this in a cast iron skillet and stir it constantly while it cooks or it will burn and throw off black specks throughout your roux and you'll have to start all over again. Most people burn their rouxs because they either stop stirring or they have the heat too high, so keep it at medium-high and stir until bursitis sets in. Mine usually take anywhere from 15-20 minutes, and the finished brown color you want to see is that of peanut butter. The texture of the roux as it begins to brown changes, it goes from very smooth to somewhat gritty looking as the flour particles finally hit the temperature that makes them swell. Take it off the heat as SOON as it gets to that color or it might burn rather quickly, and continue stirring until it has stopped bubbling. Careful with this stuff, it burns like a motherfucker should it get anywhere on your person so don't get all crazy with the stirring. Second tip, do the spice rub on the meat a day in advance, two if possible. THE Best Roast Beef PoBoy, EVAR
For the gravy:
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup white flour
- 2 quarts beef stock or beef broth
For the roast:
- 2-3 lbs of beef stew meat in large chunks, or roast beef cut into similar size
- 2 tsp each garlic powder, onion powder, oregano leaves, thyme leaves, paprika, white & black pepper
- 1 tsp each cayenne pepper & salt, or to taste
- 1/4 cup flour
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 whole head of garlic, cloves separated and peeled, either left whole or sliced
- 2 bell peppers cored, seeded, and cut into large chunks
- 2 medium sized onions, peeled and roughly chopped
- 4 stalks of celery, leaf tops left on but root end trimmed, cut into 2" sections
- 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tbsp hot sauce, my preference is Trappey's. Frank's Red Hot & Crystal are also good and you should have them all on hand anyway
- 1/2 of a head of cabbage, very thinly shredded
- One loaf of French bread or a nice sized baguette, wrapped in foil and warmed in an oven
- Combine the oil & flour in a cast iron or other heavy skillet and prepare the roux - refer to the above for details. When finished browning the roux, add a little of the beef broth or stock, whisking it in until smooth, until it is all incorporated - then stir in the Worcestershire and hot sauces and bring it to a boil so it can thicken properly, and the gravy base is made. Adding the broth or stock in small increments at first and whisking it until smooth is how you prevent the gravy from getting lumpy.
- Combine all of the spices (including the salt) and press into the meat with your bare hands until all of it is well seasoned, cover and refrigerate until ready to cook.
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet, dredge the beef chunks in the 1/4 cup of flour, and brown in batches until each piece is cooked on all sides, then place in a large crock pot.
- After transferring the browned beef to a crock pot along with the vegetables and garlic cloves, smother the meat and vegetables completely with the gravy, cover the crock pot and turn the heat setting to high until it all gets nice & bubbly, then down to low and leave it alone. Cooking overnight makes for the most tender roast beef, so this is best done before going to bed. It also means that you can load the dishwasher after you've finished everything and run it before you go to bed, and not have extra dishes and pots and pans to clean the next day while you're chowing down.
- To serve, split the bread and dig out the soft inside - use these pieces of bread as gravy dippers. Load the bottom of the bread with some of the meat and if desired vegetables, lots of gravy, and a good heap of the shredded cabbage. Throw on the top slice of bread and get your nosh on. My preferred side dishes are nice fat steak fries on the side (they love the gravy too ya know) and cole slaw made from the remaining cabbage. To make easy cole slaw, grate or chop in a food processor the cabbage with a whole carrot, half an onion, half each of a green and red bell pepper, salt, lots of pepper, and mayonnaise to bind it all together. You'll need to add a bit of sugar at the end just to lighten it up a little. Experiment and make it your own.
In the event that there is any leftover roast beef & gravy, serve it over rice or mashed potatoes the next day with a good salad and more French bread - or plan on making enough that you can do this anyway. Not just
the best poboy ever, but also some ball-rocking beef tips on rice. Making a double batch of this recipe also means you can freeze half of it for another day, a day when you want to have it but just not have to go through the trouble of having to cook. Oh yeah - and you're welcome ;-)
I really need to post (or repost) my recipe for chicken & andouille gumbo, as well as my recipes for red beans & rice, beef boulettes (garlic stuffed meatballs in a rich, spicy gravy to serve over rice, mashed potatoes, or grits), smothered green beans and potatoes, corn maque choux, and bread pudding.