Roast Beef Po' Boys - almost - for the slow cooker

I say these are "almost" Roast Beef Po' Boys for a few reasons. First, I made our hoagie rolls in our standard 5-6 inches-ish length, rather than making something 8-10 inches like they do in New Orleans. My debris gravy is definitely not authentic. And, while we got them "almost" dressed, there's no such thing as a good tomato in Ohio in February, so they were missing a shirt.

But, yes, that IS gravy dripping down the side!

What is a Po' Boy? A sandwich filled with goodies by another other name is still a sandwich filled with goodies. Your area of the country might call them hoagies or submarine sandwiches or grinders. In New Orleans, Po' Boy is the local lingo. Of course, the most famous versions are usually filled with breaded and fried seafood - shrimp, catfish, crawfish, or oysters. To me, a Roast Beef Po' Boy (poor boy for those who prefer to spell the whole word) is like an open-faced roast beef sandwich all wrapped up in a bun.

Technically speaking, the debris floating in the gravy are bits and pieces of meat that have naturally fallen off the roast while it is braising. I didn't technically braise (slow cooking in liquid) my roast, but it's close enough for rock 'n roll when you're using a slow cooker. When I'm cooking with chuck roast, I prefer to use my slow cooker - turn it on in the morning and around supper time the meat is fall-apart tender. But, when I trimmed the fat, there were a few pieces of meat left in the rind plus a 3-ish ounce piece of roast. I pulled these little bits and pieces out of the fat and added them to my gravy.

Finally, a lesson in dressing your sandwiches in New Orleans. You don't have to say you want "lettuce, tomato, pickles and mayonnaise" on your sandwich, whether it's a po' boy, burger or muffuletta. All you have to do is say "dressed" and your sandwich miraculously comes laden with that specific quartet of goodies. Be warned: if you are in NOLA and you ask for your muffuletta to be dressed, they'll look at you funny.

The voice inside Harry's head told me to trim the biggest part of the fat off of the chuck roast before cooking it. I wasn't about to let that flavor go to waste, so there it sits waiting on its happy purpose. My knife also needed some love and I'm not as skilled in the meat-trimming department as Harry. I made a simple rub of Kosher salt, ground black pepper, paprika, granulated garlic and ground oregano and slapped it on both sides of the meat.

Then, something very strange happened. Harry was at work and the voice in his head told me to sear the meat. Usually, when I'm making a pot roast I just throw everything in the slow cooker and forget about it. I have a strange fear of cooking things at too high of a temperature but this worked very well. Just a few minutes and the flavor at the end was well worth it.

I don't think it's possible to eat beef without onion as flavor. I had a half of a huge sweet onion in the fridge and just sliced it real quick and covered the chuck roast with it. You can't see it but on the very bottom of the crock is the fat I trimmed from the roast - I just used it to make a nice bed for the seared chuck. After the onions, I poured in a half-bottle of Great Lakes Brewing Company's Edmund Fitzgerald Porter (again, I think Harry's voice was speaking to me) and drank the rest. My cooker has settings ranging from 4 hours - high to 10-hours slow. I used 6 hours - high and it was about 7 hours (automatically turns to warm) before I started the gravy.

After pulling out all of the bits and pieces of meat from the fat and setting them aside, I strained the cooking liquid into my saucepan. I added about a half-cup of water and brought it all to a boil, including the bits and pieces of meat. Then, I made an easy flour-water slurry and added enough to thicken the gravy. I also added about a teaspoon of red wine vinegar and even though Harry was sitting there, his lips didn't move when some strange voice told me to add some butter to finish the gravy.

Now, a secret I read yesterday from New Orleans Magazine that the locals won't share with us Yankees is this: they all add a few splashes of hot pepper sauce to their Roast Beef Po' Boys. I have to agree with the logic - the Frank's didn't really add any heat but the vinegar cut through the richness of the gravy for a nice contrast. (The mayonnaise is buried under the shredded iceberg lettuce and yes, I sliced those pickles myself.)

I've actually only had one Roast Beef Po' Boy in Louisiana and it wasn't even in NOLA. We stopped at Abita Brewing in Abita Springs, LA to have a beer and decided we needed to eat. No, I don't think mine is as good as that one was but this sandwich is killer. Harry thanked me for not making them 10 inches long because he still would have felt the need to eat two. This size is just right!

Roast Beef Po' Boys for the Slow Cooker - serves 6
2 1/2 to 3 pound beef chuck roast, trimmed of large fat and rind
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon ground paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground oregano
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 ounces amber beer or porter (yes, you can use wine or water or beef broth)
1 cup sliced onions

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups cold water, divided
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon butter

6 hoagie rolls or submarine sandwich buns, toasted
shredded iceberg lettuce
dill pickle slices
tomato slices (if available)
hot pepper sauce (if desired)
lots of napkins

In a small bowl, combine salt, pepper, granulated garlic, paprika and ground oregano. After trimming the chuck roast, rub both sides of the meat with the rub ingredients.

Heat a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. When heated add the olive oil and swirl around, then place the roast, flat-side down, in the skillet. Allow to sear until a nice crust forms on the bottom, about 3-5 minutes. Turn the roast over and sear the other side. Remove from heat and set aside for a moment.

Layer the fat trimmings in the bottom of your slow cooker, then place the seared chuck roast on top of the trimmings. Cover the roast with the onion slices then add the 6 ounces of beer. Cover the cooker and let roast for 6 to 8 hours or until very tender.

Remove roast to a plate and cover with foil to keep it warm. Remove any small pieces of meat that might remain in the slow cooker or the fat and set aside in a bowl. Strain the cooking liquid into a saucepan, add 1/2 cup of water and the bits and pieces of meat, then bring to a strong simmer.

In a cup or bowl, mix 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour with one cup of cold water until smooth. Slowly add the slurry to the simmering liquid, whisking to prevent lumps, until the gravy is thickened. Add the red wine vinegar and continue to cook for 5 minutes until the flour taste is gone. Whisk in the tablespoon of butter and the gravy is finished.

To assemble the Roast Beef Po' Boys:

Thinly slice the reserved roast beef. On each toasted hoagie roll, spread mayonnaise on the top half. Pile several slices of roast beef on the bottom half of the bun and then ladle on some gravy. Top with tomato, pickle, hot pepper sauce and shredded lettuce and serve with several napkins.

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