Friday, October 24, 2014

Crawfish Bisque

Who knew, but Nebraska does have crawfish in little pockets of the state. When the canals are drained in the fall, those looking to catch them can walk into the lowered water to scoop them out with nets. We went for the first time a few days ago and was able to bring home half a cooler of these "mudbugs." If you've never eaten crawfish before, they are like little morsels of lobster. They are tasty and fun to eat, perfect for a traditional Louisiana-style crawfish boil, to make bisque or whatever you want. We've only ever had crawfish out of the Gulf states in restaurants. To our delight, Nebraska crawfish are every bit as good! 

Depending on where you live, your method of catching crawfish will be different. The most well-known way to catch crawfish is by using traps. But make sure you check your traps every day, especially if they are fully submerged in the water. Dead crawfish are no good for eating. To keep them alive on the way home, we poured a little bit of water into the cooler and kept the lid open to allow the crawfish to breathe. Do not fully submerge crayfish in water-- they will drown. 

When you bring them home, simply rinse them in water to get any dirt, mud and sand off of them. We do not "purge" the crawfish in salted water. Studies show that this does not make a difference, and you will have to go back to devein the crawfish anyway. Not only that, the salt will kill the crawfish-- this is especially important if you do not plan to cook them right away. Because it was getting late, we only cooked about half of the crawfish by putting them in boiling water for 7 minutes (in batches). We peeled the tails and kept the shells to make stock for later recipes, like this one. We left the other half alive and divided them between two coolers to give them more room and to reduce their stress. There was a little bit of water in the coolers to keep them from drying out. We kept the lids open and left them outside on our patio-- the weather was in the 40s to 50s during the night. We woke up the next morning and every single one of them stayed alive! Whew. We were worried.

Servings: 4-6
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cooking Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes
- 1 pound of cooked crawfish tail meat, peeled and deveined 
- 3 tablespoons of butter
- 1 large yellow or white onion, chopped
- 1 cup of carrot, chopped
- 1 cup of celery, chopped
- 6 cloves of garlic, minced
- 5 tablespoons of tomato paste
- 5 tablespoons of flour
- 6 cups of crawfish stock or seafood stock (see recipe below)
- 1/2 cup of cream sherry
- 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika
- 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
- cayenne pepper, to taste
- kosher salt, to taste
- 3/4 cup of heavy cream
- chopped parsley or chives for garnish
- cracked pepper
Crawfish Stock
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 4 ribs of celery, chopped
- 2 carrots, chopped
- half an onion, quartered
- 1 quart of crawfish shells (tails and claws)
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 quarts of water
- 1 teaspoon of crushed juniper berries (or whole peppercorns)
- 4 fronds of fennel

1. In a large pot, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrot, celery, garlic, a pinch of salt and sauté for 5 minutes or until the onions are cooked and translucent. Add tomato paste and sauté for another 1 to 2 minutes, being careful not to burn the paste.Then sprinkle the mixture with flour, stir and sauté for 1 minute.
2. Add the crawfish stock, cream sherry, paprika, thyme and cayenne. Cook for 30 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally to keep the bottom from burning. 

3. After 30 minutes, or until veggies have softened, discard the thyme. Then transfer mixture into a blender and pulse until smooth. Do this in batches to avoid splatter.

Return blended soup into the pot and season with salt to taste. 

If you find that the soup is too thick, add more stock to thin out the soup. If you have no more crawfish stock, chicken stock is okay. 
4. Next, stir in heavy cream. Use our measurements or stir in as much as you would like. 

Check seasonings again.
5. Keep the crawfish tails whole or give them a rough chop. Ladle soup into bowls, then sprinkle the top with crawfish, parsley and cracked pepper.  

If desired, sauté the crawfish in melted butter to warm them up. 

How to Make Crawfish Stock

1. To make crawfish stock, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a stock pot. Add celery, carrot, onion, a pinch of salt and sauté for 5 minutes, or until onion turns translucent. Then add crawfish shells and sauté for another 2 minutes. 
2. Add water into the pot, as well as fennel, bay leaves and juniper berries. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Then take it off the heat and allow broth to steep for 10 minutes.

Finally, strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer. Cool and refrigerate stock if you don't plan to use it right away.

This recipe was made with:

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Product Review: Mr. Grill Cleaning Brush

Mr. Grill, a company that sells high-quality grill accessories, sent us their 18" Grill Cleaning Brush to review. According to the product website, the brush features: 

- 18" long solid oak handle to clean all corners of the grill while hot without burning your hands
- High quality, long lasting brass bristles that will not scratch your grill over time
- Unique T-brush design allows you to get in all nooks and crannies 

After using the Mr. Grill brush, we have concluded that we really like it! You can get one on Amazon for just $8 bucks right now, and it is worth every penny. The cleaning brush is solidly built, and follows through on its promises. The handle is sturdy and was long enough to keep the hair on Rick's knuckles from burning off over the fire. The brass bristles did not mark our grill at all, and did a good job at scrubbing the areas between the grates. It quickly and easily removed all the leftover bits of food that got cooked onto our grill. Just pass the brushes over the grates a few times and call it good. The whole thing is easy to handle.

To find it online, click here:

The brush cleaned our grill nicely, which we later made dove poppers on. Mmmmm ... Dove poppers. You can find the recipe here, the same recipe we used for these duck poppers-- no brining required for doves.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Vietnamese-Style Roasted Quail

This kind of dish is called "mon nhau," Vietnamese drinking food or pub grub. They're small bites and appetizers shared around the table with beer, casual conversation and sometimes horrible singing. My parents did not frequent these Vietnamese karaoke pubs often, but their friends did and sometimes we'd get invited. Having to sit through a whole night of drunken karaoke, the only consolation my brother Ngoc and I had was the bar food. Some dishes were great, while others were odd-- like duck blood salad, fried intestines and pickled pork sausage. But one of our favorite dishes were the roasted or fried quail, which we happily gnawed and picked at while trying to ignore the horrible singing. When the food was gone, both he and I were ready to leave. 

This recipe can also be grilled or fried. We chose to roast the quails because it's healthier. The lemon, pepper and salt dipping sauce is a standard in Vietnamese pub food. It's also great with seafood like crab, crawfish and calamari. 

Servings: 2
Prep Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes
Cooking Time: about 10 minutes
- 4 whole quails
- 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons of Ponzu sauce
- 4 teaspoons of sugar
- 1 teaspoon of five-spice powder
- 1 teaspoon of freshly grated ginger
- 3 tablespoons of Shaoxing rice cooking wine (or dry sherry)
- 1 green onion, white and light green parts chopped
- kosher salt, to taste
- 1 tablespoon of oil
Dipping Sauce
- 1 tablespoons of lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon of salt
- 1 teaspoon of cracked black pepper

1. In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, Ponzu, sugar, five-spice, ginger, rice wine and green onion. 

Rinse quails under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Salt well inside and out and place in a zip lock bag. Pour the marinade into the bag, massage the bag and refrigerate for 2 hours. 
2. Take birds out of the refrigerator to come to room temperate before cooking. 

Turn broiler on to high. Oil the grates on a roast pan with rack and place it in the oven to heat up.

Remove quails from the marinade and paint the birds with butter or olive oil. 
3. Then roast the quails for 5 minutes breast-side down. Flip quails breast-side up and roast for another 2-3 minutes, or until skin turns golden. Finally, turn them over on their wings and roast for 1 minute on each side. Do not leave the oven, because it does not take long for the broiler to burn food. 

Combine dipping sauce ingredients and serve on the side. This recipe is also perfect for grilling and frying.  

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Flattened Dove

Grilled whole doves are delicious, but sometimes it's not worth firing up the grill when you don't shoot your limit, especially if you've got a charcoal grill. Instead, broil your doves in the oven. With a few simple ingredients, you'll have perfectly roasted doves on the dinner table in less than 15 minutes. 

Oftentimes, we have trouble getting birds to turn golden brown in the oven. Here's a tip. Sprinkle a little bit of paprika on the skin, and it will help the skin brown and also add a bit of smokiness to your birds. We don't have much else to say about this recipe other than that it's easy and straightforward. We prefer to eat doves whole and not breasted out, which is 100x more tasty. Plucking a dove is so easy, there's no reason not to do it. Though small, the legs are tasty and surprisingly satisfying to chew on. What do doves taste like? They taste somewhere between a white and dark meat bird. They are so good... 

Servings: 2
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 7-10 minutes
- 4 whole doves
- kosher salt, to taste
- few pinches of Herbes de Provence (or your choice of seasoning)
- few pinches of paprika (Hungarian paprika, preferred)
- olive oil
- 1 tablespoon of melted butter

1. To flatten a dove, cut along the back of the dove with kitchen shears. With the now open cavity facing you, gently bend the sternum toward you until you feel a soft crack, which will flatten the bird. 

Turn broiler on to "low." Place a roasting rack with a roasting pan in the broiler to allow it to heat up for a few minutes. 
2. Rub doves with olive oil. Then generously sprinkle salt all over doves on both sides. Rub Herbes de Provence between your fingers then rub it over doves. Place doves breast-side down in the broiler and cook on "low" for 5-6 minutes. 

Then take roasting rack with doves out of the broiler and increase heat to "high." Turn doves over so that the breasts are facing up. Paint breasts with melted butter then evenly sprinkle with paprika. Place doves back into the broiler and cook on "high" for 2-3 minutes, or until breasts are golden brown. Do not overcook; meat should be slightly pink inside. 

Serve doves by themselves, with a salad, rice or pilaf. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Roasted Teal with Wild Plum Sauce

Rick and his cousins shot some teal(ducks) the other day. He brought home six of them and we plucked every bird but one. The one was soaked, probably from sitting in someone's wet pouch in the marsh for too long. When a duck gets too wet, the feathers will break, leaving the quills under the skin when you go to pluck it. Since I didn't want to sit there tweezing a bird that was all shot up anyway, we just breasted that one out-- which kind of sucks because teal are tiny and you need to eat them whole to be fully satisfied. So there's a tip for you-- do not let your ducks get too wet! 

Roasting a whole duck isn't hard. Because it's so small and best eaten at medium rare, it takes 15 minutes max for teal to roast in the oven. If you want the skin to be golden and crispy, you'll need a good oven that will get hot enough. Our oven stinks-- so that didn't work too well for us, judging by the photo. (Electric stoves and ovens... BOOO!) Still, it tasted good. With a better oven, maybe you'll have better luck. If not, searing the breast quickly in a hot, oiled skillet before putting it in the oven will work, too. It'll be like finishing a steak. 

There are wild plum trees all over Nebraska. We're not sure what the distribution is, but they seem to grow along highways, roads and trails. They ripen around August and September for us, though it probably depends on how long your winter lasts; the last two years, Nebraska has been having very late springs. The wild plums here are reddish orange with yellow/orange meat and may be different in your area. They are the size of large cherries. Astringent, we don't find them good to eat by themselves, but they're great in sauces and jellies. The recipe below is an easy, quick way to make a plum sauce that would be tasty with any wild game. We thought we'd serve it with teal because both are in season right now. 

But before you go eating things from bushes, please make sure that you correctly identify wild edibles before using. 

Servings: 2
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes
- 4 whole teal, plucked
- extra virgin olive oil
- kosher salt, to taste
- 4 small wedges of onion
- 4 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 2 cups of whole, wild plums 
- 1 small sprig of rosemary
- 1 teaspoon of ginger, minced
- 1 shallot, minced
- dash of nutmeg
- dash of white pepper
- 2 tablespoons of sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon of soy sauce

Tip: For the best chance of getting crispy duck skin, the duck has to be dry. After plucking and rinsing, pat ducks dry with paper towels. Line a large plate or tray with 2 layers of paper towels, lay ducks on top and loosely cover with another piece of paper towel on top. Leave in the refrigerator overnight or longer. The cold, dry air in your fridge will help dry the skin. 

1. First, take ducks out of the refrigerator an hour prior to roasting. Preheat oven to 450-500°F, or as high as your oven will go. 

2. To make the plum sauce, place washed plums in a sauce pan. Pour in a little bit of water and bring to a gentle boil to soften plums. Use a potato masher to squeeze out as much juice as you can from the plums. 

Once well mashed, pour plums through a strainer or food mill to get as much juice out of the fruits as possible. Discard leftover skin and pits. Place juice (it will be pulpy) in a container and set aside.

3. In a small sauce pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil and sauté shallots until lightly browned. Pour in the plum juice and add ginger, rosemary sprig, nutmeg, white pepper, soy sauce and sugar. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes-- add water if too thick. Add more sugar or soy sauce if necessary. If too sweet, which usually won't be the case for Nebraska wild plums, add some white wine vinegar. Reheat and remove rosemary before serving. 

4. Ducks should be dry from being in the refrigerator overnight, but if not, dab dry with paper towels. Rub with olive oil all over skin and inside the cavity, then generously sprinkle kosher salt inside and out. Place a wedge of onion and 2 sprigs of thyme in each duck. Lay ducks breast up on a roasting rack in a roasting pan, preferably a flat one; we had to use a celery stick to separate the ducks because we used a turkey roaster. Roast at 450-500°F for 12-15 minutes, or until meat is medium-rare (internal temp of 135° F).

5. Allow birds to rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Reheat plum sauce and serve on the side. Eat ducks with wild rice, roasted veggies or anything that you like. 

If serving to guests, please warn them about the possibility of finding shot and blood from bruising. 

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