Thursday, October 25, 2012

Photo Of The Day: The Last Moments Of Some Unlucky Crawdads

A moment of silence.

They were delicious.
This year the West Side Market in Cleveland turned 100 (the market itself is much older; the date 1912 refers to the dedication of the clock tower on West 25th Street and Lorain Avenue), and I took several trips back ("good lord, are you going back to Cleveland again?" my boss and roommate alike would lament).

Our friend Bruce (known by non-du-hack Ur'Lord Pyro -K, which is a runic P) doesn't need much of a reason to celebrate, even my less and less rare visits, so on two such occasions he ordered crayfish shipped in from the Gulf Coast (minimum order: 40 pounds of live crayfish).  The whole thing was very cloak and dagger: in order to save an extra $100 in delivery fees, Bruce would drive out to the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport on the far west side at the crack of dawn.

To save time, I was handed a slip of paper and dispatched to the market. The list had names of spices and figures, sometimes ratios, sometimes quantities (surely one doesn't need 8 cups of cardamom pods, rather 8 whole pods, likewise with cloves, star anise and the like). I glanced at it and shoved it back in my pocket.  Recipes! Bah-humbug.

I meandered through the market until I found my way to my spice dealer ("the spice must flow!"), Urban Herbs.

The original list is on the web somewhere, in a directory of a personal web server, tucked away probably named something original like "crawfishboil.txt", probably within the same directory as instructions on how to solder together a blue box, crack any master lock, a number of splatter-punk short stories and three or four e-zines in which I am possibly mentioned by nom-du-hack.

I am not interested in the recipe. I am not religious about recipes (unless baking, and then severely agnostic). "It's not a religion it's just a technique."

Crawfish Boil Spice Mix

Adapted from Ur'Lord Pyro -K ("it's a runic P!"), who adapted it probably from Alton Brown:
  • 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
  • 2 tablespoons whole cloves
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons whole allspice
  • 4 tablespoons cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dry mustard
  • 1 tablespoon dried dill weed
  • 6 bay leaves, crumbled 
Boil:
  • 5 gallons water
  • 1 pound kosher salt
  • 10 pounds live crawfish
  • 3 pounds small red potatoes, cut in 1/2, if larger than 2-inches in diameter
  • 8 ears corn, halved
  • 2 heads garlic, unpeeled, but separated
  • 1 pound Andouille sausage, cut into 1-inch pieces
Additions/substitutions:

Add Szechuan peppercorns, fresh garlic, ginger, star anise to make it more "Asian." Make a chile, brown sugar and nam-pla dipping sauce.

Substitute dry mustard with toasted and fresh ground mustard seeds. Sub dry bay leaves for fresh.

Add fresh garlic, rosemary, thyme and oregano to make more "Mediterranean".
Add chicken or turkey necks to add body and to nosh on. Ham hocks, smoked turkey necks and legs, smoked ham shanks also add that je nais c'est qua.

Cheese cloth and crayfish boils:

One vexing problem is that of the grittiness inherent in having so many whole-spices crushed up and thrown into the boil.

One solution is to create a "sachêt d'épice" using cheese cloth to trap the whole spices, allowing their essence to seep into the boil. I'm not a huge fan of this approach (but it is the same as with stock making in the French tradition).

Also possible bundling the larger ingredients (crayfish, potatoes, corn) separately in cheesecloth and cooked in the boil.

Either way, most people will find those approaches fussy, and Bruce dispenses with it entirely.

Timing:

Add spice blend in layers.

If you have added raw turkey or chicken, let that go at least 30 minutes before adding anything else.

Potatoes will take the longest to cook at over 30 minutes, followed by the corn. I like to add onions, chile and sweet peppers and carrots, which need about 20 minutes. The Andouille sausage is smoked and therefore already cooked. Those only need to heat through for 15 minutes prior to adding the bugs.

The bugs will cook in 5 minutes at a rapid boil, but you can go 10 minutes before they turn into rubber. Anything longer than 12 minutes is pushing it.

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Urban Herbs
West Side Market Stand: E-2
216.241.5444