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Cooking from the World Pantry: Shrimp Po' Boys

Shimp Po Boys
Shimp Po Boys / Photo: Maria Zizka

 

My fiancé, Graham, talks about hot sauce as if he's a sommelier. We'll sit down to dinner and he'll say, "I would suggest we pair this crispy broccoli with a nice sriracha." Or, "these soupy black beans would go well with our jalapeño hot sauce."

He's poking fun, of course, but I think he makes a valid point: Hot sauces, like wines, differ greatly, and there's often a natural pairing for a specific dish. Sometimes that pairing can be unexpected; the obvious choice isn't always the best. However, it is always worthwhile to give the combination of flavors some good thought.

When assembling a small collection of hot sauces for your pantry, there are a few essential types to consider. First, you'd be wise to choose one Asian-style hot sauce, a chile-flecked, garlicky sauce that'll bring heat to spring onion pancakes, Vietnamese noodle salad, and kimchi fried rice. Next, you should pick a jalapeño pepper-based hot sauce. Jalapeños turn red as they ripen, so a red version of this style will be hotter and sweeter than its green counterpart. Thirdly, select a thin, vinegary hot sauce with roots in the culinary traditions of the Southern United States. With at least one representative in each of those categories, you'll have a solid foundation.

Hot sauces
Hot sauces / Photo: Maria Zizka

 

If you are looking to expand your collection, you need only the curiosity to explore. Take a spin down the condiments aisle of the nearest Asian grocery store. You might find a jar of <em>gochujang</em>, a pungent, fermented Korean condiment. Or try poking around in an Indian market and seek out the spicy tomato chutney called <em>achaar</em>. Throughout the Caribbean, pepper sauces are made from various chiles, including the Scotch bonnet (called the ball-of-fire pepper in Guyana) and the cherry-look-alike wiri wiri pepper. In North Africa, the condiment of choice is harissa. It's spicy and spiced -- with cumin and caraway. In no time, you'll be a true hot sauce connoisseur.

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Shrimp Po' Boys

Graham would say, and I'd agree, that the correct pairing for this sandwich is (obviously) a Louisiana-style hot sauce.

Serves 2 very hungry people

4 cups vegetable oil, for frying
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup cornmeal
3 tablespoons Cajon seasoning
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
¾ pound whole shrimp, peeled and deveined
Flaky sea salt, for sprinkling
2 (8-inch) French rolls
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
¼ cup sliced dill pickles
2 cups shredded purple cabbage
Hot sauce, for serving

Pour the vegetable oil into a heavy pot and heat to 350°F. 

While the oil heats up, set two shallow bowls next to each other. In one bowl, pour the buttermilk. In the other bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal, Cajun seasoning, and salt.

Once the oil is hot, toss a handful of shrimp around in the flour mixture, then dunk them in the buttermilk, and toss them in the flour mixture once again. Carefully drop the battered shrimp into the oil and fry, turning once or twice, until they are deep golden brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer the fried shrimp to a brown paper bag, sprinkle with flaky salt, and let cool. Check the temperature of the oil to make sure it is still 350°F before repeating the battering and frying process with the remaining shrimp.

To serve, slice open the French rolls. Spread one side of each roll with mayonnaise, then layer the sliced pickles, purple cabbage, and fried shrimp. Cut each sandwich in half and serve warm with lots of hot sauce.

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