It’s one of those beloved rituals of Gulf seafood lovers: sliding your front teeth across the sturdy membrane of a crab claw to remove every last bit of sweet meat. Crab claws are one of my favorite party foods for their charm, ease and taste.
There are two kinds of New Year’s Eve participants: those who go out, and those who stay home.
I’m generally planted in the latter camp….have been for years….and if you’re like me, there’s a good chance you’re casting about for something special to serve for dinner, something that screams romance, friendship, family or just final decadence before resolutions come home to roost.
I’m here to recommend one of my all time favorite soups, Emeril’s corn and crab bisque. Done right, with its perfect balance of dairy and stock, its tender corn and succulent jumbo lump crabmeat, this soup delivers elegance in a way that others don’t. I’ve served it as a main course and as a starter, and each time I’ve placed it on the table, it’s earned rave reviews.
The best party dishes are ones that fit two criteria: you can make them ahead and serve them at room temperature. And marinated seafood, like classic West Indies salad and southern pickled shrimp, fits them both. Think of them as a sort of Gulf Coast ceviche, even though you’re beginning with cooked seafood.
The Mobile, Alabama favorite, West Indies Salad, is made with crabmeat, minced onions and an oil and vinegar solution, and Charleston-born pickled shrimp, involves fresh boiled shrimp riding it out in a tangy marinade for a couple of days before serving. They’re delicious crowd pleasers that offer a refreshing counterpoint to party buffets where the rest of the line-up can be heavy.
Hush puppies are perfect little representations of the South. They’re comprised of meal from the region’s only truly indigenous grain — corn — and like other mild-tasting southern foods, their flavor is enhanced by a trip to the fryer. Tender, golden brown and crisp, nothing beats a hush puppy between bites of fresh seafood and crunchy coleslaw.
Hush puppies are standard issue in the coastal south, but are also commonplace throughout the rest of the region. For proof, I turn to no less than Season 5 of FX’s Justified, when hunky Kentucky Marshall Raylon Givens is asked if he’s ever heard of falafel.
“Never cared much for it,” says Givens. “I always found it kinda like a cut rate hush puppy.”
The blue crab harvest is fully underway here in South Louisiana, and many friends I talked to over the weekend were planning Labor Day crab boils. Yum! As much as I love crawfish, shrimp and oysters, crab — I have to admit — is my all time favorite local seafood. It would be on my desert island list, and my death row last supper.
After our daughter’s cross country meet Saturday morning, we picked up a couple dozen boiled crabs over from Tony’s Seafood for our family of five, and they couldn’t have been tastier. Traditionalists say if you harvest crabs after a full moon, they’re at their fullest, so I guess we were still benefiting from the full moon a week earlier.
Shrimp are harvested from March to December in Louisiana, and one of the enduring ways to savor them (despite the calories) is fried.
What’s the right way to fry shrimp? Ask anyone with ties to the Gulf South, and brace yourself for strong opinions. Timing and temperature are an issue. You shouldn’t overcook the shrimp, yet the oil has to be hot enough so that the brief cook time ensures crisp texture. Then there’s breading and seasoning. What’s in the wet better? What’s in the dry batter? How much salt, pepper and other spices do you add to flavor the shrimp without overshadowing its delicate profile?
Before the summer slips completely away and we return to back-to-school order and discipline, I’d like to share my dad’s tried-and-true formula for decadent, deep-fried Gulf shrimp, something my family and I savored this past weekend.