Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Eatin' With A Crowd

Little Milton--"Grits Ain't Groceries" (mp3)
The Ray-O-Vacs--"Party Time" (mp3)

Went to a crawfish boil the other night at Champy's Fried Chicken. What a glorious night it was, too!

Warm spring night, the smell of crawfish and Zatarain's seasoning in the air. Every table full, both inside and out. Us standing there waiting for an open table, not feeling like there was any kind of hurry. A guy walking past us as we walked in, carrying a huge bucket of freshly-boiled crawfish that he dumped into a large cooler in preparation for upcoming orders.

We paid $20 for 2 1/2 lbs. of crawfish, plus new potatoes and a piece of corn. It was like a little bit o' heaven just sitting there around a table without a care in the world, sharing that huge tray of mudbugs, rookies like me learning how to twist the tails off, all of us going through napkins and beers, wandering over to the jukebox to play a little Joe Cocker or Stevie Ray Vaughn, the buzz of activity all around us.

There really isn't much better than that kind of informal eating where everybody just digs in, preferably in an outdoor setting, with nothing needed besides a pile of napkins. And it's almost like, the bigger the group the better, the hotter the weather, the better, the messier the food, the better. Your hands are going to smell anyway. You're going to get whatever it is you're eating on your clothes. If you kiss somebody, you're going to partly be kissin' crawfish.

Having a big, casual, communal eat-in is about the closest thing there is to just taking your clothes off and finally getting the chance to be whoever it is that you really are.

We have to play so many different roles in any given day that it's a relief, a complete relaxation to sit around a pile of food big enough that everyone can eat at his or her leisure. There's no competition. There's no awkwardness about who gets the last piece. You talk about the food. You talk about the techniques involved in eating it. You laugh. Your conversation drifts to strange places uninhibited by all of the confines of the day. Eventually, everything gets stripped away. You live. It's dirty, smelly, earthy, primal, real.

And they can dress up a fondue with jazz music, wine, and nice clothes, but it's still nothing more than a bunch of people sticking their sausage or their piece of bread or their apple into the same vat of cheese. I mean, really, Melting Pot? You really want to pretend that that is a highbrow experience, a big night out that requires someone to shell out a lot of money?

There are few things easier to prepare than fondue. It, like a boil, is nothing but pure, casual fun, maybe just the winter version.

I walked out of that crawfish experience thinking, 'You know, Bob, I could do this every night for the rest of the crawfish season, however long that might last.' Just sit and listen to music and learn how to squeeze that crawfish meat out of the tail like a pro. Instead, I told the waitress I wanted the shells (which she thought was pretty strange) which I put into a plastic bag and used the next morning to make crawfish stock as the basis for a soup of stock, onion, celery, garlic, potatoes, fresh corn, parsley, green onions, and crawish that I had to buy frozen from Spain.

But, you know, somehow making that soup kept the feeling of that experience going a little bit. Here's to friends and crawfish and Friday nights.

And here, from my 50th birthday cookbook, is the recipe for the ultimate communal meal--the Low Country Boil, a specialty down around Charleston. Not only is it inexpensive (the supermarket always has some kind of frozen raw shrimp on sale these days, for not much more than you can get good, fresh, huge shrimp down in New Orleans), but it's the most tasty, most casual meal you can imagine. You spread a bunch of newspaper onto a table, and once your food is drained, you just dump it all out onto a table and have everybody dig in with their hands. No plates or silverware needed. And when you're done, you just wrap the whole thing up and throw it away. Unless you're weird like me and you keep the shrimp shells to make a stock for some future meal.


The Boil:

3 Tbl Old Bay Seasoning
½ large onion sliced
½ lb red potatoes, cut in half, or fingerling potatoes, if you can find them
1 lb lowfat Butterball Turkey sausage or kielbasa
4-6 ears of corn, broken in half
1 lb medium deveined uncooked shrimp

The Accompaniments:

Sister Schubert’s Dinner Rolls
Homemade or locally-made chow chow
Cocktail sauce, ketchup, mustard
Bread and butter pickles
Salt and pepper

Place Old Bay seasoning, onions, and potatoes in a large kettle filled with water. Bring to a boil, then add the corn and cook two minutes. Add the sausage, and cook three minutes more. Finally, add the shrimp and continue cooking until they begin to boil to the surface. Pour into colander, then immediately onto a table covered with newspaper where the accompaniments await. Serves 6.

Man, there is a fine little mix of off-kilter, party oldies over at wfmu.org, where the tunes above came from. Check it out, if only to remind yourself that if you don't have Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made For Walking," you need it.


Daisy said...

Crawfish frozen from Spain? That is just wrong.


Bob said...

Daisy--desperate times, desperate measures!

sirwin said...

Dear Bob,

I was concerned when you wrote about taking the crawfish shells and cooking a crawfish stock as the basis for a "crawfish soup with crawfish I had to buy from Spain."

I'm assuming you were talking about crawfish tail meat.

I'm not sure why you had to buy crawfish from Spain when everyone knows the best crawfish comes from Louisiana.

I've included a link to www.crawfish.org, the Website of the Louisiana Crawfish Promotion and Research Board. A link to a listing of Louisiana live crawfish and tail meat suppliers is also provided.


Sam Irwin
Louisiana Crawfish Promotion and Research Board

John said...


As huge a fan of New Orleans and its culture and cuisine as Bob is, I know that your response has made his week!

troutking said...

Great post.

I didn't even feel the slightest guilt that my people aren't supposed to eat crawfish...

jed said...

let it be known - champy's is the bomb. he fried our tanksgiving turkey - wow! everything there is great, especially the tamales!! and here is the best part - not only does he sell 40's, he sells coozies to fit them. i LOVE that place and wish him all the best. Bob, you should take the tamale trail through MS and LA - ask my wife about it....

Kath said...

Hey Dad, I totally agree-- this meal has comprised been some of our best outdoor eating. I love dumping it all out on the newspaper. You've made me want summer now! Kath

Anonymous said...

Bob, I believe the night we had the low country boil out back on your deck might have been the same night I grilled the shit out of that pineapple and got it all over your ceiling...or maybe that was another night...damn, need another beer to jog my memory.