Posted: 11:09 a.m. Friday, Nov. 1, 2013
By Mouth of the South
This week, the Irish face off against the Navy Midshipmen, affectionately known by our Marine writers and commenters as "squids." It's nice how they always give the Marines a ride to wherever the fight is, right? I kid. I'm not aware of any Navy readers or commenters, but if you're out there, I'm sure you'll give me a fair amount of the business in the comments. In any event, the OFD editorial staff thought that we should go the seafood route for this week's Football Food. As the staff's only Louisianian, I could not in good conscience allow any of the other writers to hold themselves out as experts on this topic. The Brothers Rigney are Marylanders, but they steam their seafood, and as we'll get into in a bit, it ain't seafood (we're talking crustaceans here) if it ain't been soaked in heavily, HEAVILY seasoned water for a good 15-20 minutes.
So mais oui, this week we'll be cooking up Louisiana boiled shrimp in the OFD kitchen. As the son of a commercial fisherman of 20+ years turned seafood market owner, well, let's just say that I've boiled a few pots of shrimp in my time. But why shrimp? First, shrimp are probably a lot easier for those of us outside Louisiana to come by than are crawfish or crabs, both of which need to be cooked live and have much shorter shelf lives than shrimp. Second, shrimp cook a lot more quickly than crabs or crawfish and won't pinch the hell out of your wee digits. Finally, with shrimp, the juice is worth the squeeze. Pound for pound they're just a lot more meaty than crabs or crawfish.
First you'll need the shrimp. I like a medium to large count shrimp for boiling. Really anything in the 10/15 to 40/50 (the numbers are the count per pound) range will work, but I like to keep it in the 16/20 to 26/30 range. Anything larger tends to be a little tougher. Anything smaller, and your ratio of meat to work gets dangerously close to . . . well, let's just say that we don't want to go there. Make sure that the shrimp aren't black, green, or orange. The heads should be firmly attached to the bodies. If they're starting to separate, the shrimp have been in the cooler for a while.
Next you need your accoutrements. Literally anything that's food will work. As I said, in south Louisiana everything is soaked in heavily seasoned water, which is great for seafood, less so for homes, automobiles, and personal effects. Stupid hurricanes. Anyway, potatoes (any small red or brown spud will do; small is key so that they cook through easily), corn (corn is corn; Indiana readers holla), celery, onions (yellow), and Andouille sausage.
For seasoning we'll need salt, powder crab boil (Zatarain's is good), liquid crab boil ( again Zatarain's), cayenne, or better yet Chinese pepper, which is like three times hotter than cayenne. Be careful with this stuff. For the casual boiler, Zatarain's shrimp boil will get the job done, and you can just follow the seasoning instructions on the box. We'll also use some lemon oil-not juice, oil. It is extremely concentrated and will literally eat through styrofoam. We'll also need some peeled garlic, bay leaves, and quartered lemons and garlic. Andouille sausage and turkey necks also go well, though they will make your boil water extremely greasy, so they are best left for after your shrimp.
Okay, so we're ready to cook. You need a gas fired boiling pot with enough water to submerse your shrimp. You can do this on a stove in your kitchen, but outside with an extra large boiling pot is more fun, especially during the fall and winter. There's just something special about huddling around a big, hot thing that is going to produce a small, delicious thing, but I digress. Dump your garlic, bay leaves, and liquid and powder crab boil, into the water and stir it up really well to make sure that you've broken up any clumps of seasoning.
A word on salt here. Job posed the rhetorical question "Can a thing insipid be eaten without salt?," but the Mouth would query whether even a thing delicious can be eaten without salt. The answer is no. But DO NOT add salt with the rest of the seasoning mix before the shrimp. If you do, your shrimp will be harder to peel by an order of magnitude. If your shrimp were IQF (individually quick frozen) they might not need any salt at all, due to the amount of the salt used in the IQF process. So, to quote our Commander in Chief on a weekend in which we try to capture his trophy, "it is imperative" that you find that out when you buy them. There's nothing wrong with IQF shrimp, but you need to know this for seasoning purposes. If the shrimp shells are really coarse and stiff, they may be IQF. Regardless, don't add salt until after you boil and shut off the shrimp.
Potatoes are your critical path item, so dump them in-watch the splashing-and boil them until tender to the touch, or about 10-15 minutes. If your water level is still high enough to accommodate your shrimp, thrown them in. If not, add a little water, bring back to a boil, then add your shrimp. Return to a boil, stir, then shut off after a minute. Add your salt (see Zatarain's instructions as a guide, but be sparing if you suspect that the shrimp are IQF), lemons, onions, celery, and corn, and just a one or two caps of lemon oil, and stir. Taste after five minutes. Then taste again every 30 seconds, or more frequently. The more ravenous your crowd, the more you will want to taste before everyone digs in in earnest. Chef's privilege, you see. Season more with boil, salt, and cayenne/Chinese pepper to taste. You're probably not going to soak the shrimp for more than 15-20 minutes after you shut them off. Then remove from your pot, dump onto a table topped with newspaper-you know, those paper things that no one gets anymore-and dig in. You can throw your Andouille in now. It should already be cooked. If not cook per directions. Even if it is pre-cooked, you'll want to slice up the middle and bring to a boil.
If you want to try your hand at some turkey necks, knock yourself out. Due to liability issues inherent to advising our readers on cooking poultry, I think I have to tell you to put a thermometer into every piece and make sure it's reached 500 degrees Celsius or something. Or just don't be an idiot and cook it until it's done using the good common sense your mama taught you.
You'll want a generous supply of saltines, Captain's wafers, or even melba toast with butter to put your shrimp on. Make up some cocktail sauce with ketchup and horse radish. If you put anything more than that into your cocktail sauce, try not to get it on your plaid shirt, ratty hoody, red skinny jeans, and blue shoes because you are trying too hard. Nobody likes a show off. Get your address to Kelly's Gyros so he can send you a present. Hint: it will be delivered by Predator drone. Remoulade is also delicious with boiled shrimp, but a little tougher to make. I recommend Louisiana brand.
And voila, you have an authentic south-Louisiana-style shrimp boil. Enjoy, but for the love of God, wash your hands BEFORE you use the restroom.