April 21, 2014 – It’s a sure sign of spring in the south. A big pot of highly seasoned water bubbling away. Filled with new potatoes and corn. Maybe a few other things. And shrimp, crawfish or crabs. It’s peel’em and eat’em time.
Now I have to admit that growing up in Alaska with king crab so abundant I’m spoiled. When it comes to crab, I’m going Alaskan every time. But combining the traditional dishes of my native culture with the seafood bounty of my adopted home produces some spectacular results. Gumbo made with king crab is simply amazing. Over the top delicious.
When it comes to a boil, crawfish is my favorite. Those little cousins to the lobster can make it challenging to get to the tasty meat hidden away in the curve of their tails. But the effort is worth it.
The first time I took my wife to New Orleans we went to the Acme Oyster House for lunch. She tried raw oysters for the first (and probably last) time. And boiled crawfish.
When the waitress set the tray of crawfish on the table, my wife looked nervous. Her son had told her to get me to show her how to “…suck the heads and pinch the tails…” She wasn’t exactly sure what that meant.
First, break the tail away from the body. Suck the liquid and fat from the body. So spicy. So good. But not everyone is up for that.
Next strip away the first two sections of shell from the tail. Then pinch the end of the tail, gently pushing the meat up and out.
Suck the heads…pinch the tails.
Reach for another crawfish.
In the various places in which I spend time crawfish aren’t always available. The shrimp boil is the easiest to do on a consistent basis. And shrimp are the next best things to the little red mudbugs.
The real trick to a shrimp boil is getting the shrimp spicy enough without overcooking them. It only takes about three minutes to cook shrimp and that’s not really much time to spend in the spices that make a boil so wonderful. There are, however, some things you can do to help the little crustaceans absorb as much spice as possible without turning them into overcooked bits of nautical rubber.
The following recipe can be used for crawfish, shrimp or crab. You can also add other ingredients to the boil. I’ve never seen a boil without new potatoes and corn. But artichokes work well in a boil, too. I’ve even seen mushrooms tossed in. It’s like so many traditional Louisiana dishes. What do you have handy in the kitchen?
This recipe can also be extrapolated to serve as many people as might show up. Just figure on about a pound of shrimp per person. You might have some leftovers or you might not. If you do, the shrimp will be spicier the next day, inspiring even more delight.
Medium shrimp (21 – 25 to the pound) are best for a boil. Smaller shrimp work better in salads. Large shrimp are excellent for grilling or for scampi.
You can make up your own spice bundles if you wish. Include mustard seed, coriander seed, cayenne, bay leaves, dill seed and allspice. Coincidentally, those are the ingredients in Zatarain’s shrimp, crawfish and crab boil. It’s a lot easier just to toss one of those little bags of extreme goodness into the water. And these days supermarkets all over the country carry the products of the venerable New Orleans company.
1 bag Zatarain’s shrimp, crawfish, crab boil 6-12 new potatoes, cut in half
2 onions, peeled & cut in half crosswise 1 lb sausage, cut into 2″ pieces
4-5 whole garlic cloves, peeled 3-4 ears corn, cut in half
2 lemons, cut in half 2 lbs medium shrimp
Fill a stock pot about two-thirds full with water. There should be enough water to cover all the ingredients without overflowing. Add salt to taste and bring it to a boil. Toss in the spice bundle, onion, garlic and lemons. Reduce to a simmer for half an hour to 45 minutes. Give it plenty of time to let the spices fully permeate the water.
Add the new potatoes and sausage. Bring back to a boil, then reduce the heat again. Simmer slowly for 15 to 20 minutes. Check the potatoes occasionally with a fork to make sure they’re not overcooking and becoming mushy.
Add corn. Bring the water back to a boil, then again reduce the heat. Simmer for about five minutes. As with the potatoes, check the corn occasionally with a fork for the same reason.
Take the pot off the heat. Place a bag of ice in the water to stop the cooking process. Let the ingredients soak in the water for about ten minutes to allow them to soak up more of the spices.