Lowcountry Seafood Boil

My brother/guest blogger Craig hosted a crawfish boil not too long ago. This is something I've never considered, let alone executed, so I've taken a few tips for myself. Thanks Craig!


This is time-consuming, expensive, and totally friggin' worth it. One day someone at work suggested we do a traditional crawfish boil but we took it a step further by adding shrimp and crab, turning it into a seafood boil. This is a bayou-southern-gulf kinda meal, a meal that takes an entire day to prepare, a few minutes to cook, and a long time to eat. It's really fun and not too high on costs if people throw in money or donate some things. There is a lot involved but again, totally worth it.

You will need:

A 32-60 quart cooking pot – usually from a turkey fryer. Make sure it has a strainer with it.
The turkey fryer cooking stand
A propane tank, full
At least two big picnic tables or similar
Butcher or freezer paper
A radio
A 4-5 quart cooking pot
A large large spoon or small shovel (no joke, a clean one)
Wire-mesh strainer
Towels, lots and lots of small hand towels
Workers gloves
A large group of people
Large cooler with drain
Platters for different foods, at least 4 or 5
A knife, sharp

About 7 lemons, cut three in half and the rest in small slices
One head of garlic
One onion
6 pounds of sausage, andouille if spelled right or available, chopped into 3-inch pieces
Ten ears of corn, cut into thirds
Three to four pounds new potatoes
7 pounds live feisty crawfish
9 pounds crab legs
12 pounds raw shrimp, can be headless but preferably not alive
Two or three medium sized packages of shrimp boil seasoning
Salt for purging the crawfish (more on that later)
Cocktail sauce (recipe below)
2 pounds stick butter
White vinegar
Baguette bread, 4 loaves more or less

Okay, what a list. I'll break it down for easy ingestion.

The night before, make the cocktail sauce, or buy it. Whatever. If you make it, get some chili sauce (it's right next to the ketchup), a couple cloves of garlic, horseradish, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and some salt, pepper and garlic powder. Don't buy horseradish sauce, it's nowhere near the same. Mix it up until it tastes right, with the horseradish going in as your danger ingredient. Too much will put all but the most dedicated off, too little and folk will think you're a pansy.

Set up the pot and the burner, do not ignite just yet.

Go to the store and buy or ask people for the things you don't have. At the store, go to the seafood area and find out when your store gets fresh shipments in, that's the best time to do one of these. Ours comes in every Friday so we lucked out on that. The crawfish are the highest-maintenance of all the foods, so make sure you bring a cooler with an ice pack and a wet towel in it to the store. Try to pick that stuff up last, even if you have to reserve the critters first and wander/shop. Once home, pour the crawfish out of the bag into the cooler and fill up the cooler and cooking pot with cool water. You'll notice it gets really nasty really fast.

You need to change out the water every 15-20 minutes until its clear. Heating up the water to a boil will take about 40 minutes, so start purging the crawfish an hour or so before you turn on the heat. Purging the crawfish is what gets rid of all the mud and poo in their system, and on the last purge when the water is ready, add a bunch of salt to make them puke out the leftovers. The cool thing is when they meet their demise they'll suck in some of the flavored boiling water, making the insides even tastier. But don't add them yet.

Prepare the lemons, sausage, corn and hose down the potatoes. Cut the onion in half and peel all the paper off the garlic and lightly crush. You can put all but the potatoes and corn on one platter.

Start to clarify the butter. If you don't know how, it's easy. Put all the butter in a big pot and let it sit on medium low for about thirty minutes. Strain with the strainer and the cheesecloth into another bowl. You may need to do that a couple times, so be ready to sacrifice a few sheets of cheesecloths. If you know someone who works at a hospital ask them to get some laprascopic sponges for you, they're great for cleaning or cooking with. Do not throw away the fat free butter like someone at our party did.

Once the waters' a boilin' you can add a few tablespoons of the vinegar and one package of the seasoning mix along with the potatoes, garlic, onion and corn. After a couple minutes of boiling, add the crawfish. This can also be considered batch number one if your pot isn't big enough. Allow the water to return to a boil before adding anything else. After a few more minutes, add the ¾ of the second package of the seasoning mix, sausage, crab and shrimp. The crab is most likely precooked as that's how its usually done so they're just getting reheated. That can also be batch two for those lacking in pot stature.

Set up your eating table. There are no individual plates needed, people should be content with standing around the table with bowls of cocktail sauce, vinegar and salt, and butter at both ends of the table.

After a few minutes of cooking at a boil, you have a couple options; you can kill the heat and let it sit to allow the seasoning continue to make the food spicier or you can pull it off and strain. Shake it around to get rid of as much water as you can. Cover the table in the butcher/freezer paper and tape it to the underside of the table. Pour out the cooked sea animals onto the table and sprinkle on the leftover seasoning mix and don't be shy about it. Consume. Drink beer. Enjoy. Hire someone to clean up.

Ranch Chicken

I start out a lot of posts with "I never liked (insert food here) in the past, but..."

Aside from the fact that it's the God-honest truth, it's also an easy way for me to convey the promise of the dish itself - not to tout that my palate is more refined now than it ever has been in the past. That a dish could turn me from a hater to a convert speaks pretty highly of it, in my opinion.

That said, without ever trying it, I had a severe prejudice against honey mustard up until Sunday. A few years back, when I lived in Virginia, I had a friend that requested a side of honey mustard to accompany every one of his orders of chicken tenders or french fries, and the sight of the gloppy flourescent yellow liquid always turned my stomach. It just sounded and looked awful, but clearly I had no idea why I thought that...it really is a perfect compliment for grilled or broiled chicken!

This chicken, courtesy Ree at The Pioneer Woman, could be the simplest of country foods: pan-fried chicken covered in bacon and yellow cheese. However, the marinade in grainy mustard, honey and paprika changes the whole scope of the chicken from simple to sassy.
You will need (adapted slightly from The Pioneer Woman Cooks):

½ cup grainy mustard or dijon mustard
½ cup honey
1 whole lemon, juice only
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon salt
Crushed red pepper (optional; to taste)
4 whole boneless, skinless chicken breasts
8 slices thick cut (preferably peppered) bacon, cooked
Shredded colby or cheddar cheese, to taste

To begin, make the marinade. In a large bowl mix together ½ cup dijon or country/grainy mustard with ½ cup honey, juice of 1 lemon, ½ teaspoon paprika, and ½ teaspoon salt and whisk until smooth. Sprinkle in some crushed red pepper flakes or cayenne if desired. Set aside.

Next, rinse the chicken breasts, place between two sheets of waxed paper and pound to around ½ to ¾ inch thick with a mallet. Next, add the chicken to the bowl with the marinade, cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 1 to 3 hours (1 hour was sufficient).

Grill the chicken on an outdoor grill over medium flame until cooked through.

Remove chicken to a large baking sheet. Lay a few pieces of bacon over each chicken breast. Sprinkle shredded sharp cheddar cheese over the top of the chicken as generously as you like. Set pan under your oven's broiler set to low for an additional five minutes until cheese is melted and bacon is sizzling. Serve immediately.

Jalapeno Hummus and Classic Hummus

Lord. Yeesh. This is some spicy stuff.

You'd think I'd have guessed that, given that Josh found the recipe on jalapenomadness.com, but it seemed like a good recipe for our first attempt at homemade hummus. After all, we both like spicy food.

No. This stuff was off the charts, dangerously close to "not even tasty" territory... after a few dips, I was just not enjoying it anymore.

Maybe I'm being a bit harsh, because the bones were there - it was creamy and certainly had that distinct hummus taste, so it was more or less a success. If you're into that crazy-spicy hummus sort of thing, then try out the original recipe. If not, I'm listing my omissions and adaptations right off the bat to turn the jalapeno hummus into the more classic hummus, with only a hint of garlic flavor and a lot less like a punch to the mouth.

In order of importance:
  • Zero jalapenos. Adding a third of a cup of pickled/jarred jalapenos, as the recipe calls for, is insanity.
  • No curry powder. I believe it was the turmeric in the curry I used that transformed my hummus into mustardy, nuclear hummus. Ick.
  • Not 3, but 2 cloves of garlic. Next time, I'll roast them first.
  • No crushed red pepper.
  • Add about 1/2 a tablespoon of olive oil to the food processor at the end.
  • Maybe a teeny tiny touch of salt at the end as well.

Anyway, here's the original.

You will need:

1 cup garbanzo beans (chick peas), drained and rinsed
1/3 cup canned jalapeno pepper slices
3 tablespoons tahini
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
Crushed red pepper to taste

In a blender or food processor, mix the garbanzo beans, jalapeno peppers, tahini, garlic, and lemon juice. Season with cumin, curry powder, and crushed red pepper. Blend until smooth.

Butterflied, Roasted Chicken and Chicken Jus

I know what you're thinking - a roasted chicken is a roasted chicken is a roasted chicken. For a long time (until Friday), I thought the same. I also resigned myself to the fact that I was never going to get a chicken done in one shot, as every single time I've ever pulled a roasted chicken out of the oven, it's had to go back in with pink thighs and bloody legs. What was I doing wrong?

While not wrong, necessarily, I had not done the proper research. Thanks again to happenstance and Serious Eats, I learned the science behind a perfectly roasted chicken and put it to work the same evening. It would require using my kitchen shears for something other than Alyssa's craft projects for the first time, as well as a whole heckuva lot more preparation, but I'm never straying from the method. I even plan on cooking our Thanksgiving turkey the same way.

If you care to read about the science behind it, by all means, but basically it boils down to your roasting pan's hot and cold zones. The edges of the pan will always, always be hotter than the middle. Removing the backbone and flattening the chicken ensures that the thighs - the slowest-cooking part, as they must reach an internal temperature of 170 - rest on the hottest part of the pan, and don't cook way behind the breast. The same theory suggests that the breasts sit in the coldest (relatively speaking - internal temperature must be at least 150) part of the pan, therefore cooking more slowly, and won't be cardboardy chicken lumps by the time the thighs are safe to eat.

Besides, you can cook down the backbone for a velvety, vermouth-laced jus that jus to die for (couldn't resist).

Here's what you do and what you'll need (adapted from Serious Eats/J. Kenji Lopez-Alt):

For the chicken:

1 chicken, about 3 1/2 to 4 pounds
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
2 teaspoons chopped herbs (I used sage and parsley)
Various ground spices if desired (ground mustard, paprika, garlic powder, etc)

For the jus:

1 onion, roughly chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and roughly chopped (I used 8 baby carrots cause that was all we had in the fridge)
1 stalk celery, roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
1 cup dry vermouth or sherry
1 teaspoon soy sauce
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons juice from 1 lemon

Set oven rack to upper-middle position and preheat oven to 400 degrees. Using sharp kitchen shears, remove spine from chicken and cut into 5-6 1-inch long pieces.

This is kind of gross and difficult, but nothing my construction-paper-dulled kitchen shears couldn't handle. Set spine aside.

Flatten chicken by placing flat skin side up on cutting board and applying firm pressure to breast bone. Rub chicken on all surfaces with 1 tablespoon oil. Season generously with salt, ground black pepper, chopped herbs and various spices (I also used paprika, granulated garlic and ground mustard).

(Note: I apologize if you envisioned a gorgeously presentable, Norman Rockwell roasted chicken, perfectly trussed and plump for the table. This bird comes out of the oven ugly).

Set wire rack in rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Position chicken so that breasts are aligned with center of baking sheet and legs are close to edge. Roast until thickest part of breast close to bone registers 150 degrees on an instant-read thermometer and joint between thighs and body registers at least 170 degrees, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat remaining tablespoon oil in small saucepan over high heat until shimmering. Add chicken spine and cook, stirring frequently, until well browned, about 3 minutes. Add onion, carrot, and celery and cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. The aroma is unreal right now.

Add bay leaf and deglaze with vermouth or sherry and 1 cup water, using wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits from bottom of pan. Reduce heat to maintain simmer and cook for 20 minutes.

Strain out solids and return liquid to pan. Boil over medium-high heat until approximately 1/3 cup remains, about 7 minutes. Whisk in soy sauce, butter, and lemon juice off heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Remove chicken from oven, transfer to cutting board, tent loosely with foil, and allow to rest five minutes before carving. Serve with hot jus.

Sorry, guys...

I've certainly been falling short on new posts. It's not for lack of a backlog, that's for sure, but lack of time and resources.

1. I've mentioned before that my camera and Josh's camera both went kaput at separate times - that's a big motivational sap. If I'm forced to take crappy cell phone pictures, I'm less likely to do it. However - hooray! - we're both buying new cameras tonight. For real cameras...so I promise, no more cell phone photo shoots.

2. I'm knee-deep into Atkins. If you're interested in my Atkins/food philosophy, check out my post about it over at my awesome friend Angela's Atkins Blog, or wait, because one day I'll repost it here. I don't intend to turn this into a low-carb blog, but I will mention it, always, when a dish fits into the guidelines of the diet. Most of my food can be passed off as "real food," as my non-dieting friends call it anyway. But, the occasional sugary treat and baked good will still turn up; fear not!

3. Nashville, where I call home, is inconceivably under water. Our home, including my purple kitchen, was a victim of severe runoff from the saturated ground last weekend. We had water coming in faster than we could get it out, and the recovery has been slow. Fortunately, given the scope of the damage to the rest of this city near and dear to my heart, we've been incredibly lucky. It sucked, and we are certainly damaged and overwhelmed, but man...it could have been a lot worse.

So, I thank you for your patience and assure you I'll be back in the kitchen soon. Thanks for sticking with me!