Crispy Tuna Cake Po’Boy

#RecipeUpTop (details to follow):

For the crispy tuna cakes:

  • 2 cans tuna, of your preference;
  • 2 cups bread crumbs (unseasoned);
  • 1 egg;
  • 1/4 cup diced yellow onion;
  • 2 tablespoons mayo;
  • 1 tablespoon dijon or stone-ground mustard;
  • 1 teaspoon celery seed;
  • Salt (to taste);
  • Black pepper (to taste);
  • Hot sauce (to taste);
  • Cayenne pepper (to taste);

For the po’boy:

  • 1 loaf French bread;
  • Shredded lettuce (to taste);
  • Sliced tomato (to taste);
  • Julienne red onion (to taste);
  • Mayo (to taste);
  • Hot sauce (to taste);
  • Salt (to taste);
  • Black pepper (to taste);

Method: Combine the tuna with the mustard, mayo, seasonings, the egg, and half the bread crumbs. Refrigerate for thirty (30) minutes, then form into balls and coat with the remaining bread crumbs. Pan fry until thoroughly cooked, and crispy. Drain on paper towel.

Slice the French bread into a po’boy loaf, and toast. Dress as desired with the veg and dressings, then add the crispy tuna cakes while hot, and serve immediately (with a cold beer).

The Details

There’s something about a New Orleans po’boy that gets into your brain and nestles there, undetected, until one bleak, February day when it storms the walls of your frontal lobe and reminds you that it’s your favorite thing in the world, ever, and you need one right now.

The sting of hot sauce against cool mayo. The crispy crunch of shredded lettuce and perfectly fried seafood. The flaky, buttery fluff of fresh bread. I mean, come on.

And so, today is that day for me.

In the summer, coastal Maine is a wonderland of fresh, local seafood that almost makes you embarrassed at the bounty. In the winter… well, not so much. This fact was once again understood as Mrs. 10Chickens and I tried to come to terms with po’boy fever, and this recipe is the solution.

The dark horse here are the crispy tuna cakes, which I’d been making for a few years as a quick lunch. They’re cheap and easy, and are really fantastic atop a green salad with a stone-ground mustard dressing. Turns out, they’re also a great February stand-in for the summertime fresh equivalent, and they provide the necessary crispy crunch required of a good po’boy filling. So, let’s ride.

Step one: mix your tuna. Get the cans drained (obviously), and get your tuna mixed and seasoned to your liking. Hold back the egg and bread crumbs until after you’ve adjusted for taste. You don’t want this to be stupidly wet, but if it’s too dry (meaning not enough mayo or mustard), the end product won’t be great:

Pre-egg and breadcrumb texture, well-seasoned

Once you’ve got things tasting the way you want, add the egg and HALF of the breadcrumbs, and mix to thoroughly combine, then stash away for half an hour. You want the bread crumbs to fully hydrate with the extra moisture from the egg and other ingredients:

Texture after egg and breadcrumbs

Step two: make your cakes. After half an hour, the tuna mixture should have tightened up a bit. Mold into balls, slightly squish, and dredge through the remaining bread crumbs, and set aside. I like pucks, but not flat discs, but also not golf balls. There’s a happy medium here, so go find it:

About this size
Into the bread crumbs. These happen to be homemade, because, well, I just have a lot of old bread around, but store-bought is fine here. Just make sure they’re unseasoned.
All breaded up and ready to go.

Step three: heat a small amount of oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet of your choosing. We’re not deep-frying these; we only need enough oil to keep them from sticking. Also, keep the heat relatively low as we need to cook these through without burning the crust, which can happen fast.

Well, well, well, if it isn’t my favorite pan on earth

Get the cakes in the pan, and move them around a bit to make sure they’re not sticking. Cook for about five (5) minutes, and flip, keeping an eye on your heat to avoid over-browning (burning). Cook for another four (4) minutes and start temping with a probe thermometer. You’re looking for 140F or so at the very center.

Don’t give in to the desire to crank the heat. These will get there.

When they cakes are done, move to a draining rig (I like paper towel on a baking sheet, but it’s dealer’s choice).

Canned tuna? Really?

In the interim, split your bread. You can toast it in the oven (I do), or not. Get the top and bottom slathered with mayo, then add salt, pepper, and hot sauce directly to the mayo. On the bottom of the loaf, add your cakes, then top with shredded lettuce, then sliced tomato. Add the top half of the loaf, and slice on the bias into manageable hunks.

Oh yeah.
Oh, oh yeah.

Serve hot, with extra hot sauce and some cold beer. Listen to some zydeco. Pine for spring. Plan your crawfish boil. Be satisfied.

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