summer

Belle Annee: After the Crawfish Boil

From the beginning of February until the beginning of June, New Orleanians go into a festive frenzy.  It begins with Mardi Gras, then the first warm weekend that falls, followed by St. Patrick’s Day, St. Joseph’s Day, Easter, French Quarter Fest, Jazz Fest and then end of school and start of summer vacations.  The frenzy is not this collection of special events but rather the accessory to all of it:   The frenzy is Crawfish Season.  

The big plastic letters outside of Big Fisherman on Magazine Street or KJeans in Mid City  spell out the magic words “Hot Boiled Crawfish Today” and those signs remain until the beginning of summer.  During that time the seafood departments of grocery stores smell differently, weekends are planned differently, we look at draft beer with more affinity, and our Mardi Gras cups get used with more frequency.

Crawfish boils are comprised of collecting newspapers, setting up plastic tables, ordering kegs of beer, purging the crawfish, chopping the veggies, getting the seasoning juuuust so and then, finally, boiling the crawfish.   Friends and family tear into the steaming red trough of crustaceans, picking their favorite accoutrements along the way – potatoes, corn, mushrooms, sausage, and maybe artichokes and garlic.  Everyone comments on the size of the crawfish, the seasoning and the weather and they stand shoulder to shoulder pinching the tails, sucking the heads and enjoying their part in this Southern Louisiana ritual.

There is a a backside to all of this for the host though.  When the friends have gone, when the tables are folded up, and when the garbage has been relocated to black contractor bags for pick up early Monday morning, there is usually – almost always – a leftover pile of crawfish that did not get eaten.  So much work goes into the boil that it is disproportionately painful to discard anything uneaten, but what are you really going to do with any leftovers?  There is not enough to make Crawfish Étouffée or or Crawfish Bisque and too many to just quickly peel them and pop them into your mouth.

I pondered this while eating my very own pile of crawfish at a friend’s boil recently.  I looked around and realized the key to a good leftover recipe is finding a use not just for the crawfish but for the veggies and extras also.  That’s how you differentiate it from just a plain crawfish recipe.  And that is where Sunday Morning Crawfish Crepes come in.

Embrace the Saturday-afternoon crawfish boil as your first step toward Sunday brunch.  With advance planning you have a great use not just for your leftover crawfish but for any of the “extras” you can snag including corn, garlic, mushrooms, sausage and just about anything else.  The key to this being a success is to split up the work making the crepes on Friday, grabbing your leftover crawfish on Saturday and then mixing everything together on Sunday.

The recipe is really simple.  The basic idea is to peel your crawfish, cut up your veggies and add them to a spicy béchamel .  Then ladle that into and over crepes with asparagus.  The asparagus aren’t really that crawfish boil-y but they do look nice and the fresh green crunch adds to an otherwise rich filling.

So fold up the plastic tables and break out the wine glasses and silverware: Brunch is served!

Click here for the recipe!

For more from Jessica Bride, visit www.belleannee.com.

RIPE FOR THE PICKIN'

BY CHEF JOHN BESH

Summer is in full swing and the delicious local produce reflects it. Trips to the local markets produce delicious, ripe figs, juicy peaches, watermelon, sweet blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries.

The fresh summer fruit reminds me of my maternal grandparents, Grace and Mitchell Walters. They came from warm, happy-go-lucky Irish stock, and their house in Mississippi became my place of refuge, where I was treated to much love and affection, not to mention the best food I’ve ever eaten.

Granddaddy had fig trees, pear, plum, and quince trees, and scuppernong and muscadine vines. Peaches we would buy from a nearby farm, and we’d pick blackberries and huckleberries, which would make their way into a jar or two. since we could not possibly eat it all, preserving was the best way to hold on to the essence of the fruit. In his heart of hearts, my grandfather believed cooking should be left to the women, but preserving was the man’s job. he wouldn’t let just anybody learn the process with him. If you committed to making preserves, it was not a 30-minute affair. You had to pick the fruit, clean it, cook it, and strain it and sterilize the jars, the lids. For me, even though it took way too long on the structured part to get to the eating part, preserving meant working with Granddaddy for the whole day, and that was the great thing.

Why not preserve the summer for use all year long? Here are some of my favorite recipes. Turn canning into a family activity to make create some great memories.

 

Old-Fashioned Fig Preserves

I love using my granddaddy’s favorite Celeste figs, the most common in our neck of the woods, for my Old-Fashioned Fig Preserves but just about any fig will work in these preserves. Larger figs should be quartered before the sugar is added.

 

Sugar Plums in Syrup

This recipe for Sugar Plums in Syrup is a very easy way to preserve sweet plums and then use them in many ways: I serve the tiny plums with everything from charcuterie to cheese and desserts, and I use the the syrup in a vinegar-based fruit reductions as a sauce for poultry.

 

Watermelon Pickles

Get a giant watermelon from the market and have no idea what to do with the rind? Don't throw it away! Turn it into Watermelon Pickles. Between the dark green skin  and its pinky flesh lies an often discarded, pale green rind that’s full of possibilities. Seasoned by aromatic spices in a quick boil, these pickles can be served the same way as other pickles, but they are especially fine with pork recipes.

In the Black Forest of Germany, this preserve, Berries Preserved in Red Wine, is commonly made with cherries and red fruit and called Rote Grütze. I’ve made this idea work with our delicious strawberries, blueberries and blackberries of South Louisiana. Wash but don’t peel or core the apples; the apples are where the pectin is, and you’ll need it to thicken this jam.

 

Preserved Meyer Lemons

Yes, you can use regular lemons for this Preserved Meyer Lemons recipe, but Meyer lemons are so much more fragrant. Preserved lemons can spark up roast chicken, fish, crab salad, stews, and any light meat such as baby goat, veal, and rabbit.

Our Louisiana mayhaws don’t have much juice, and so it takes an awful lot of them to make this Mayhaw Jelly. (Crabapples are a good substitute.) If you squeeze the fruit juices through the jelly bag or cheese- cloth you’ll have better yield, but the juice will be cloudy. Either way it’ll taste great. Cooking pears are those hard varieties that are better cooked than raw.

 

Peach Jam

Louisiana peaches are a sweet treat. To enjoy them year-round, my boys and I make this Peach Jam and slather it on French toast or roll it up inside a warm crêpe. Using liquid or powdered pectin is an effective shortcut.

 

Recipes are from “My New Orleans: The Cookbook”  by John Besh / Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC. To purchase this cookbook or any others, visit http://shop.chefjohnbesh.com.