Sunday, June 26, 2011

What to Bring to a Crawfish Boil

A funny thing happens when people know you like food and you publish a few recipes. Well, the not-so-funny thing is that first, many of your friends will no longer invite you over for dinner. I understand this. The better thing is that with your freer time you can take up some of those unusual invites that come your way because you are into food.

This invite came by way of my brother-in-law. Mostly the instructions we were given were 1) that it was a crawfish boil, and 2) we should bring a dish, 3) there would be some chef types around. Since I don't have a whole lot of Top Chef Masters on speed dial, I consulted my overloaded cookbook shelves. There. John Besh's My New Orleans.

What I love about this book is that the recipes are all organized around New Orleans' holidays and traditional events, such Chapter 1, Crawfish season. The only non-crawfish side dish listed was Red Beans and Rice, a basic, classic recipe using pretty much just beans and smoked ham hock and the trinity of Cajun food; onions, green bell peppers and celery.

I also love the personal photos and stories in the massive cookbook. No wonder it won an IACP award.

I followed the recipe other than a couple ingredients and one twist: I used a pressure cooker. Once you get over the fear that you are going to explode hot liquid all over your kitchen (been there and done that, no pressure cooker required), it's really not difficult. Plus, it cooks recipes like this in about third of the time. Here's my version:

1 large onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 tbs. lard (yes, I have a tub of lard on hand at home, after our tamale fest.)
1 pound dried red kidney beans
1 smoked ham shank or two hocks
3 bay leaves
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tbs. dried savory
Salt and black pepper to taste
Tabasco to taste
3 cups cooked rice

Ideally, you soak the beans overnight, then drain and rinse. Or, you can be like me, forget, then have to put the beans in water, bring to a boil and then cover. Turn heat off and go do lawn work for a couple hours before you can cook. I think I will remember to soak those beans next time. Drain and set beans aside.

Have spouse step in and do the next few steps while you shower the weeds and dirt off. Later, get poison ivy on your wrists, both feet and your nose. Again, you should really skip this step and move to the next one.

Okay, so heat up that lard in the pressure cooker pot, lid off. Sweat the trilogy (If trilogy threw you a curve, that means you skipped to the recipe and did not read the post! Onions, green pepper and celery) about 10 minutes. Add beans back in, hocks or shank, bay leaves, and cayenne. Add water to cover by two inches.

This is the step where you return from the shower and add savory in even though Besh's recipe does not call for it. Savory is heaven with a pot of beans.

Now, I'm going to guess you read the cooker manual and you have checked your gasket and all the safety tips, right? Right. Bring all the above to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Lock on the lid. Make sure that (however yours is set up) it makes the right seal and you have the safety lock all set. Again, that manual thing is helpful for a rookie like me.

Twenty-five minutes later, start the rice. Another 20 minutes later(45 minutes total), your Red Beans should be done. Follow the instructions for releasing the pressure. Then, check the beans for doneness. If they are not done, just simmer on stove for a while longer, they should be very close (or the dry beans were too old). Taste and adjust salt, pepper and tabasco or Louisiana Hot Sauce depending on your preference.

Remove the bay leaves and discard the leaves. Take the hocks or shank out with tongs and put on a cutting board. It should be easy to use the tongs to pull the meat right off the bones. Chop the meat and return to the pot. Rice should be ready by now, too.

Show up at the crawfish boil, looking like you know what you are doing. Even if you don't. Realize on the way home from the party that you kind of itch in many places including your nose.

Which brings me to the final step, never itch your nose while you are weeding the lawn.

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