Childhood nostalgia touches everyone differently. For some, seeing the first asparagus or artichoke buds at the market is a sign of the season. For others, it could be sneezing caused by allergies. For me, however, what I love most about spring is the smell of boiling seafood.
Growing up in Mississippi – a state whose food is heavily influenced by neighboring Louisiana – we used to get cowfish boils in the spring, like most people in the Pelican State. Catfish grow big in spring because they thrive in freshwater rice-growing ponds across the South. When those fields were drained in the spring, the bullfish were fully mature and fleshy. The fact that this happens with Lent means that there is a great demand for the abundant local seafood.
Boiling seafood of all kinds is a fairly common experience elsewhere in the US if you live near the ocean. Blue crab boiled in Maryland, Dungeness crab in the Pacific Northwest, lobster and mussels in New England, and in Southern California, lots of wild shrimp, so when I cook the boil here, that’s what I use. use.
The thing about the seafood boil, even though no one really talks about it, is that really It is difficult to get a lot of flavor into the actual ingredients because of the amount of water required to cook everything in such a large batch. Aside from a sometimes overwhelming heat – the main flavoring in Cajun bread boils – the rest of the flavor is a bit thin. And to get more flavor pumped into the water, you’ll have to use industrial products called “pro-boils,” whose ingredient lists contain different concentrates, extracts, and dyes. , which read like they belong in the grocery store’s cleaning aisle.
Usually, besides real bullfish, the other truly seasonal ingredient that is associated with heifer boils is new potatoes, but you can also use any type of flour. Fresh corn and sausages are added to the mix, and everything is tossed about in a tub-full of water in a giant cauldron perched on top of an industrial propane burner. Chillies and herbs are added to enhance their flavor in the original soup so that when fish is added they soak up the flavor as it cooks.
But since I couldn’t boil shrimp this year and still wanted to recreate that experience at home in Los Angeles, I developed a way to boil seafood with shrimp – probably the easiest seafood to buy for everyone though. where are you. direct – that’s manageable in a small apartment kitchen and no outdoor space. Doing this, contrary to what you might think, actually made my boiled seafood better.
For starters, I can pay attention to each individual ingredient, cooking them properly. Typically in these types of seafood boils, everything boils together for an indeterminate amount of time, and by the time everyone in the party has had a few beers, I assume they haven’t really noticed. difference. But at home and for small groups of guests, those details become a priority so that each ingredient can be appreciated for its own merits – not what it’s been boiled for for hours. So I boil all the ingredients more or less individually so I can cook them to the best quality.
I started with the largest pot I own, the 7 1/4 quart Dutch oven. Most pots where you boil pasta are the same size or larger, so I guarantee you have something big enough to get the job done. To the pot of water, I added the spices found in Zatarain’s “Crawfish, Shrimp & Crab” mix. Chilean flakes, mustard seeds, bay leaves and coriander all blend together in the water to give the bubbly tea aroma.
The first ingredient to mention is potatoes. I really like the big Yukon Gold potatoes for two reasons. One, their skin is softer than theirs. And two, each person will have their own large potato to use as more or less “bland” ingredients in the boiling process – something to achieve when you need a break from all the ingredients. other seasoning. Once done, I lifted them out of the pot and kept them warm in the oven.
Next, let’s go to two ingredients that will probably never go together with boiled seafood: oranges and artichokes. My cousin Vic Caracci lives in New Orleans and has Sicilian heritage on his father’s side. If you know cuisine from the Crescent City, you know it’s heavily influenced by the Italian volcanic island at the top of the boot. Lots of Italian ingredients go into his classic “New Orleans” cooking. Case in point: He puts whole artichokes in his casserole so you can pick up the leaves and scrape through your teeth as you eat, picking up all that remains from the seafood and seasonings. And oranges are added for brightness and bitterness, helping to balance out the spicy broth. There’s a symbiosis in those ingredients with spring in California, which I admire.
After the artichokes and oranges infuse the potter’s essence, then the corn and sausages. Usually, the sausage is fresh and mild Italian. But this is where I’m making my own twist. I like cured sausages like kielbasa or bratwurst because they simply reheat and don’t need to be cooked, which in fresh sausage often results in overcooked or undercooked meat, and rarely the perfect average. . And while you might think andouille would be more appropriate for a Cajun-style boil, you don’t want to use it. Spicy broth and seafood will be hot enough; you want sausages, like potatoes, to give you time to rest after that fire.
Finally, add the shrimp. Obviously you can use expensive mantis shrimp, but I really like wild-caught tails, shell or not, but definitely cleaned. The shrimp are added to the broth after they have had an hour to absorb the flavors from the rest of the ingredients, and they are soaked in the broth until fully cooked.
Everything is then piled onto a giant platter and sprinkled with a powerful spice blend to really set the tone for the flavors to be transmitted down in the broth. I combine Lawry’s seasoned salt – an LA staple – with paprika, cayenne pepper, a dash of sugar and then plenty of lemon zest for brightness. Mixed together, the spices both add a punch while bringing out the sweetness of the corn and shrimp and the acidity of the orange.
Place plates in the center of your table, refuse any flat items, and pile damp paper towels for each diner to wipe hands between bites. With a cold beer or a glass of wine at the ready, it’s the quintessential springtime occasion, whether you’re sitting at the dining table in your apartment, the picnic table in the backyard, or 1,900 miles from where spring begins , all these years ago.
Get the formula:
yieldsServes 4 to 6
https://www.latimes.com/food/story/2022-04-28/a-springtime-seafood-boil-fit-for-any-setting A Southern spring staple with notes of Sicily and SoCal