seafood

crawfish, o crawfish, you are so tiny this season

Here’s another “everything in moderation” (read: not-so-healthy) post for you.

If you’re from the deep south, particularly from Louisiana or the surrounding states, you not only know what crawfish is, you love it. Sure, those little mudbugs give some the heebie-jeebies, but not us from nearby Cajun country.

I can’t recall the first time I’d ever had crawfish straight out of its exoskeleton. I was probably in college or a recent graduate. Once I got over the miniature lobster-looking things, all bright red and steaming with their miniature, cute, harmless claws, and once I’d caught a whiff of the spicy garlic Cajun flavor, I was hooked.
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salmon poke recipe

It’s August, and that means it’s the dead middle of the dog days of summer. So what do you do with these dog days? You eat cold fish, that’s what. And not just cold fish but raw fish.

In a recent “MasterChef” episode, Felix lovingly assigned me a beautiful whole salmon. Salmon is one of those fish that I love to eat raw but can’t stand cooked. In the form of sushi or sashimi, I gobble it up. Even smoked, I’ll throw it on some bread with cheese and herbs. But cooked? I can’t stand the stuff. I think it’s dry and foul-tasting. I have yet to taste a cooked salmon that I could call delicious. (This is a challenge for you folks now; give me a cooked salmon that can stand on its own next to some beautiful sashimi.) I groaned when I realized which fish Felix had given me because my mind was immediately sent reeling into oblivion: while I would love to serve the salmon raw, Kaimana from the top 100 had not been given an apron for his out-of-this-world tuna tartare because the judges said serving it raw showed no cooking technique. And so I was torn. I decided to bake a salmon filet but not before slicing off the fatty belly to set aside in case I got the guts to follow my instincts and make a tartare or a roll.

Alas, a big FISH FAIL for me in that challenge. I went against my intuition and served the judges something I myself would hate to eat—breaded baked salmon and rice—while leaving the beautiful salmon belly to rot on the side of the Boos block.

After that day, I learned to never again doubt my instincts, always cook what I love, and not worry so much about what the judges wanted. I figured that if I followed my palate, I would fare better because I’d actually believe in my dishes and have pride in what I put on the plate.

As an “in your face” to salmon, I recently made salmon poke to not only redeem my crappy salmon dish but also to avenge for Kaimana’s raw audition dish. My poke was only a fraction of his tuna’s goodness, but I enjoyed eating it all the same. Obviously you can use ahi tuna in lieu of the sashimi grade salmon—ahi tuna is more common to this dish anyway—but I wanted to put a twist on the tradition.

Poke (pronounced POH-kee) is a common raw fish salad eaten in Hawaii where the fish are super fresh and therefore celebrated. I like to eat my poke on sheets of nori (seaweed), won ton crisps, or sesame crackers. It’s super easy to make and delicious and healthy. The only downside is you’ll have to splurge a little bit to buy the fish but you’ll still be saving lots of dollars making it at home rather than ordering it in a restaurant. Just remember to use a very sharp knife to cut the fish, and employ a clean single slice as to not butcher the beautiful piece of fish you’d just spent $$ on. And remember if the Blind can [not] Cook it, so can you.


Recipe: Salmon Poke

Ingredients

  1. 1 lb. sashimi grade salmon, cubed
  2. 1/2 c. Soy sauce
  3. 3/8 c. Chopped scallion
  4. 1 tbsp. Sesame oil
  5. 1/2 tbsp. Toasted sesame seeds
  6. 1/2 tbsp. Crushed red pepper
  7. 1/2 tbsp. seaweed seasoning

Instructions

  1. In a med. Bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hrs. Before serving.

Preparation time: 10 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 4

cajun crawfish boil

Since we are in the throes of crawfish season (which lasts from January to June), I decided to do this post. Crawfish (or crayfish or crawdaddy, as they’re known in other parts of the country) are little shellfish that resemble tiny lobsters. Here in the dirty South, we call them crawfish. They are little “mudbugs” that live in the swamps, and yes, while this sounds disgusting, they are actually delicious when cooked Cajun-style.

First, let’s define Cajun cuisine. Often, it’s confused with Creole cuisine, but there is, in fact, a difference per se. The Creoles were wealthy planters who settled in southern Louisiana with their European chefs, thus it is a food of aristocracy. Using Old World techniques on indigenous ingredients, Creole cuisine was born. Bouillabaisse, native to Provence, gave way to gumbo; the Spanish paella was the basis for jambalaya; and so on.

The Cajuns, on the other hand, descended from the Acadian refugees. They were less aristocratic and more agrarian; they cooked simple “one pot” dishes for mere sustenance. Cajun food is usually characterized by such ingredients as wild game, seafoods, wild vegetables and herbs. Ingredients from nearby swamps, woods, and bayous are typical things found in the Cajun black iron pot.

Today, many Creole and Cajun foods have blended into a melting pot, if you will, of southern Louisiana. One things’ for sure, though: it’s an American cuisine from the South like no other.

A crawfish boil is an event native to Louisiana but over the years has spread to most of the deep South (like my native Houston), and now, it can even be found in California, Colorado, and D.C. But because I’m a Southern girl, I don’t trust eatin’ crawfish nowhere but down he’e. What’s unique and fun about a crawfish boil is the atmosphere. Not only are you grubbin’ on good food, but you do it outside on a picnic table covered with newspaper or butcher paper. You do it over beer. You do it with your bare hands. (Or if you’re prissy like me, with plastic or latex gloves.) Most importantly, you do it with good company–it is NOT to be eaten alone. The crawfish and all the fixin’s are poured straight from the pot onto the middle of the table, and everyone grabs from the steaming pile of awesome goodness.

This recipe is based on one I got from a former coworker who has French roots from southern Louisiana. Whether she’s Creole or Cajun, I have yet to determine, but either way, this recipe is pretty tasty. She and her family do a crawfish boil every year for about a hundred friends and family. I, of course, scaled down the servings and tweaked it a little, but remember that you need to do this with a group. Also, it’s like a half day affair, so make sure you have lots of energy. I haven’t held a crawfish boil myself since 2008 because the purging, cooking, and especially the cleaning up have been too much for this tired soul. But when the best restaurants around town sell crawfish for $7+ per pound, a little DIY is something to consider.

Crawfish

Crazy Cajun crawfish

Recipe: Cajun Crawfish Boil

Summary: From the Melancons of southern Louisiana

Ingredients

  • 30-40 lbs. live crawfish
  • 3 lemons, halved
  • 2.5 tbsp. cayenne pepper
  • 6 med. onions, halved
  • 9 unpeeled garlic heads
  • 1.5 tbsp. minced garlic
  • 2.5 tbsp. Louisiana brand hot sauce
  • 1/2 to 1 lg. pkg. Louisiana brand crab/seafood boil powder
  • 12 oz. cans pineapple slices
  • 10 med. red potatoes
  • 1 lg. pkg. button mushrooms
  • 2 lbs. sausage links
  • 30 sm. frozen corn on the cob
  • 1/2 canister of salt

Instructions

  1. Crawfish must be purged before cooking to rid the shellfish of dirt and impurities: an hour before cooking, dump live crawfish into a lg. bin and rinse with water. Dump water and repeat. Refill bin with enough water to cover crawfish. Add half the salt canister and stir.
  2. Fill the pot’s basket with crawfish. Place the basket inside the pot and fill pot with water to cover crawfish. Remove basket and note the water level. Dump water and refill pot to the noted water level.
  3. Heat water to rolling boil. Add Louisiana powder, squeezed lemons plus their rinds, minced garlic, hot sauce, cayenne pepper, and pineapple slices plus juice.
  4. Dump crawfish into bin. Rinse 2 more times.
  5. Dump crawfish, potatoes, onion halves, and garlic heads into basket. Hose down.
  6. When water reaches rolling boil, carefully lower basket into pot. Bring back to rolling boil, and then time for 4 min.
  7. After 4 min., turn off fire. Add corn, sausages, and mushrooms. Let stand for at least 20 min. The longer it soaks, the spicier the batch.

Quick Notes

Cook the crawfish outdoors using the same pot, basket, and propane burner used for deep-fried turkey.

Many people say the larger the better, but I like medium-sized crawfish best because: (1) they’re easier to peel, and (2) they soak up the spices better.

Use andouille or boudin sausage for an authentic Cajun boil.

Avoid eating the crawfish with straight tails: they went into the pot already dead and could contain harmful bacteria. Stick with the curled tails.

Dipping sauces: I like to eat my crawfish straight up without any dipping sauces as I prefer to taste the essence of the spices. But many people enjoy it with various condiments. The ones I often see are: (1) salt and pepper with fresh lemon juice; (2) mayo mixed with Sriracha (or rooster) hot sauce; and (3) Creole seasoning mixed with fresh lemon juice.

This recipe should serve approx. 10.

Variations

The longer the crawfish soak after turning off the fire, the spicier they will be. Soak for a minimum of 20 min.

My favorite crawfish restaurant in Houston is The Boiling Crab. They seem to use a ton of minced garlic on their crawfish, which I may try to emulate next time by upping my minced garlic by ten or something. If you get to this before I do, let me know how it is.

Meal type: dinner

Culinary tradition: USA (Southern)

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clam chowder

Clam chowder

Now we just need a sourdough bread bowl



We recently hosted another birthday dinner at our house. This time, the guests of honor were another two friends from our wedding party: Karen and Daniel, both October babies. Daniel requested comfort food, and Karen toasted to that. October is also a good time to start cooking up that comfort food–as I mentioned in my previous broccoli cheddar soup post, we start craving comfort foods as the weather cools.

I never truly enjoyed clam chowder until seven years ago during a trip to San Francisco. Being that it was my first time to the Bay area, I had to do all the touristy things, including a visit to Fisherman’s Wharf where I ordered the notorious Boudin clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. I sat on a bench at the Wharf on a chilly November afternoon and enjoyed my little precious bowl of touristy goodness. (I don’t particularly like sourdough, however, because it has that fermented taste that errs it on the side of almost rotten, but how could I not possess the “when in Rome” attitude? I’m such a poser.) Now I need to make a trip to New England and try some of their clam chowder, and I’ll have to do it in a Patriots jersey.

Anyway, here is the way to recapture that moment, the first of what was again a three course meal. Remember, if the Blind can Cook it, you can definitely cook it.


Recipe: Clam Chowder

Summary: Original recipe from All Recipes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb. bacon, cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 3 unpeeled potatoes, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 (13 oz.) can chopped clams with juice
  • 1/2 qt. half & half
  • 1 (1.8 oz.) pkg. dry leeksoup mix

Instructions

  1. Place in a large pot, and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until crisp and browned, about 10 min. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon, leaving the drippings in the pot. Set bacon aside.
  2. Stir the potatoes, celery, and carrots into the bacon fat. Season with salt & pepper. Cook for 5 min., stirring frequently.
  3. Pour the juice from the clams into the pot. Add just enough water to cover ingredients, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for another 10 to 15 min., or until potatoes are just tender.
  4. Gently stir in the leek soup mix until no lumps remain. Stir in the clams, reserved bacon, and half & half cream. Cook and stir until chowder returns to a simmer and thickens, about 10 min. more.

Quick Notes

If the soup is still too runny, try running some of the potatoes a batch at a time through a blender or food processor. This mashes up the potatoes into a creamy texture. Add the potatoes back into the soup, and it should thicken. We had to do this to fix our runny soup problem.

Variations

Because I could not find dry leek soup mix anywhere, I tried to come up with my own concoction: some chopped scallion, cream of celery, some minced onion, chicken bouillonn, etc. Or you can substitute with onion soup mix (although I couldn’t find this either). C’mon, people! I tried the Heights Kroger, two HEBs, and even Central Market. Get with the 21st century, stores.

I think next time, if the stores still refuse to stock leek soup mix, I might try substituting it with condensed cream of potato and cream of celery soups.

Cooking time (duration): 45

Diet type: Pescatarian

Meal type: dinner

Culinary tradition: USA (Traditional)

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shrimp & tomato linguine

Photo courtesy of Love to Cook



With half a bottle of chardonnay still left over from our wedding, I’ve been looking for recipes that call for dry white wine. In addition to using it on the scallops a la Julia Child and the mushroom risotto, I found this recipe online. It is also a good opportunity to use up the last of those ripened tomatoes from your garden. I am eating the leftovers as I type this entry, and the dish tastes even better after a day in the fridge.

Remember, if the Blind can Cook it, so can you.


Recipe: Shrimp & Tomato Linguine

Summary: Original recipe from Cindy in Pensacola on All Recipes

Ingredients

  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced (optional)
  • 4 c. tomatoes, diced
  • 1 c. dry white wine
  • 1 portobello mushroom cap, chopped (optional)
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 (16 oz.) pkg. linguine pasta
  • 1 lb. medium shrimp, peeled & deveined
  • 1 tsp. red chili pepper flakes

Instructions

  1. Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in garlic and onion and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, mushroom, and wine. Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Once tomatoes have simmered into a sauce, add butter and season with salt & pepper.
  2. While tomato mixture is simmering, cook linguine according to directions for al dente pasta.
  3. Season shrimp with red chili pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Heat remaining 2 tbsp. olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, and cook shrimp until pink on the outside and no longer translucent in the center, about 5 minutes. Add shrimp into sauce, and serve over linguine with grated Parmesan if desired.

Quick Notes

My laziness screwed me again! Instead of dicing the tomatoes, I merely chopped them so they did not result in a sauce-like consistency. They were more like chunks. Make sure you chop them up into small pieces, about 1 cm. cubes, so they will soften and result in the right texture. Next time, I’m using the Magic Bullet.

My shrimp turned out slightly overcooked. (I seem to have this problem with shellfish.) The thing with shellfish is there is such a small window after it’s fully cooked but before it becomes too tough. I might have to look into this in a future blog post.

The preparation time below of 45 minutes excludes the shrimp peeling.

Variations

The original recipe didn’t call for onion nor mushroom, but I found some in the fridge and decided to add them. Onion and mushroom usually go well with any Italian-based dish, so why not?

The original recipe also called for Cajun seasoning instead of chili pepper flakes, but I like the less salty spice of pepper flakes more so switched it up.

I also was too lazy to devein the shrimp. (Us Asians tend to eat shrimp poop all the time.) Is it really that harmful for you? Sounds like a future blog post.

Cooking time (duration): 45

Diet type: Pescatarian

Meal type: dinner

Culinary tradition: Italian

Microformatting by hRecipe.

scallops gratineed with wine, garlic & herbs



In honor of Julia Child’s birthday (Aug. 15, 1912 – Aug. 13, 2004), here is a recipe from her classic cookbook. It also happens to be the second course for Jade and Uyen’s birthday dinner. (Yes, it’s another French dish.) I served it with a mushroom risotto on the side. Ever since our honeymoon, we have been obsessed with food, and especially French foods. This is why it’s no surprise that I have downloaded both volumes of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking from RFB&D and lie in bed at night listening to recipe after recipe until I fall asleep. Nuts? Just a little bit.

To gratinee something or cook it au gratin means to add a layer of an ingredient(s) (e.g. bread crumbs, cheese, eggs, butter) over the top and brown it lightly in a moderately heated broiler prior to serving. This is a common technique from the French and adds flavor and texture to the dish. When I was in Paris 9 years ago, my great aunt made numerous au gratin dishes, mostly in the form of some sort of vegetable in a casserole dish with tons of butter, cheese, and eggs–those French sure know how to eat.

I find that Costco usually has the tastiest looking scallops for a reasonable price–I think I got them for $9.99/lb. Costco has fresh seafood all around, so check out their kiosk next time you’re there on a weekend. They usually have everything from lobster to king crab.

As noted in the recipe below, I have this terrible habit of overcrowding my cookware. I always try to jam things into a small mixing bowl or crowd food into a pan. It comes from my laziness–I’m trying to minimize the time and effort needed for later dishwashing. This is why my food sometimes comes out half overcooked and the other half raw. I really need to break this cycle. Spacious cooking, here I come.

Recipe: Scallops Gratineed with Wine, Garlic & Herbs

Summary: Coquilles St. Jacques à la Provençale–original recipe from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking (vol. 1)

Ingredients

  • 1/3 c. yellow onion, minced
  • 5 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1.5 tbsp. shallots or green onion, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1.5 lbs. washed scallops
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 cup sifted flour
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2/3 c. dry white wine
  • 1/2 bay leaf
  • 1/8 tsp. thyme
  • 1/4 c. Swiss cheese, grated

Instructions

  1. Cook onions slowly with 1 tbsp. butter in small saucepan for 5 minutes or until tender and translucent but not brown. Stir in shallots or green onion and garlic, and cook slowly for 1 minute more. Set aside.
  2. Dry the scallops and cut into 1/4 inch thick. Just before cooking, sprinkle with salt and pepper, roll in flour, and shake off excess flour.
  3. In a large skillet, saute the scallops quickly in 2 tbsp. very hot butter and olive oil for 2 minutes to brown them lightly.
  4. Pour the wine into skillet with scallops. Add herbs and cooked onion mixture. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Then uncover and, if necessary, rapidly boil down the sauce for a minute until it is lightly thickened. Correct seasoning and discard bay leaf.
  5. Cut 2 tbsp. butter into 6 pieces. Spoon scallops into a baking dish. Sprinkle with cheese and dot with butter. Set aside or refrigerate until ready to gratinee.
  6. Just before serving, run under moderately hot broiler for 3 to 4 minutes to heat through and brown the cheese lightly.

Quick Notes

Since this recipe is a first course for 6, I doubled the recipe in order to serve it as the main course. I also have this bad habit of overcrowding food into cookware so some of the scallops soaked up all the sauce while others were undercooked. Don’t fall into my bad habits! Cook in batches or using more pots and pans if you have to. (I know it’s hard for us lazy folk.) After gratineeing the scallops, they turned out slightly overdone. Flavor was still great though. Serve with a chilled rose or dry white wine.

Cooking time (duration): 30

Diet type: Pescatarian

Meal type: supper

Culinary tradition: French

Microformatting by hRecipe.


And remember, if the Blind can Cook, then so can you.

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