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Posts Tagged ‘Old Bay’

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It was chilly in my apartment all last week, so I did what came naturally: turned on the oven and cooked.

The above and immediately below are coconut custard pie. I have never made one, so I blind-baked my basic crust, stirred up my basic custard, and did what my revered and liberally duct-taped Joy of Cooking suggested: tossed a 1/2 cup of shredded coconut into the bottom of the baked crust and then poured the custard on top of it. This was pretty good, but it needed to be more coconutty. So I threw in a splash of coconut extract and gave it a stir. And I ate it for breakfast all week because early-American settlers used to eat pie for breakfast, and while I can’t abide everything they did back then, I sure can this.

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Gratuitous second shot.

Next I found a recipe for Quick Jambalaya in an old February issue of Martha. I used San Marzano plum tomatoes, a red bell pepper (which I never buy out of season, but it does not do to argue with Martha), garlic, red onion, Old Bay, dark meat from half a dozen chicken legs, smoked andouille sausage, and jasmine rice. That last is an embarrassing anachronism, and per my last controversial post makes it Not Really Jambalaya, but either way it was pretty solid.

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Trader Joe’s had an awesome deal on blood oranges, so I snapped up a bag and made a sort of marmalade with them, but with less sugar. My cutting board looked like a vampire crudite platter.*

Then I made some vanilla-bean scones and ate it all up with a little plain yogurt. Also a worthy breakfast, early-American or not.**

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The below is my favorite pic. It was not a product of my kitchen.

While I was waiting for the woman at my local post office to ring up my purchase, I asked her what was in the pastry box on the counter next to her. I’ve always thought her sort of standoffish, but when I asked her she brightened and said she didn’t know, and was excited to take a peek. When she did, she squealed, and said I must take one with me.

Yet another reminder—and there will be more, and I will document them, count on it—that food can be miracle-izing. She didn’t know I’d had a chilly week, and was feeling kind of poopy. It hit the spot in a lot of ways. She even introduced herself. Thanks, Chantal.

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*That was totally gross. But true.

**Not. Whatevs.

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The early morning sunlight scattered across the Navesink River and a cool breeze made me grateful we had picked this day to go blue-claw crabbing. It’s a 40-ish year tradition of my brother-in-law’s family, and as much as I like Frank, I’m especially grateful Amanda chose him just so I could tag along on crabbing expeditions. (Now, dude, you know I kid. But it IS a bonus 🙂 Last year’s trip was a wild success—we pretty much emptied the river—and were hopeful this year we’d do as well.

I arrived at 7:30a at the Oceanic Marina in Rumson. A family pulled in beside me, and I overheard their young son asking if he should bring his ipod. Oy. But after only about 5 minutes I heard him chattering excitedly with his brothers about what he’d do if they encountered a shark while crabbing. Now THAT’S boys being boys. Relief.

Once our group arrived, we gathered up bags of ice and coolers (for the crabs we’d catch) and assorted munchkins (nephews, mostly), distributed brownies (just for the caffeine, you know), and piled into three well-worn motorized boats. We had chicken parts to use as bait, and some of Frank’s family had brought along droplines from which to suspend them. They’re triangular, notched metal frames outfitted with smooth pebbles that serve as weights. Thin cords some 20 or more feet long are tied onto the ends.

Once unraveled and baited, the cords are tied onto screws and handles affixed around the periphery of the boat, and the droplines are flung out into the river.

Yo ho ho.

Now on to the important stuff: naming our team. Frank came up with Team Awesome (comprised of himself, Amanda, me, and his 7-year-old nephew Andrew, a crabbing veteran who taught me how to skewer and wasn’t shy about raising the iron anchor—no small task). Admittedly, it took Team Awesome about an hour to live up to our name. We learned to drop anchor where the seagulls hung out. Once we found them, we were kicking crab, as the expression went that day.

Andrew backlit in the morning sun.

We waited two minutes and thirty seconds before checking the lines (a somewhat arbitrary time frame, but it worked), done by pulling them out of the water slowly, hand over hand, to raise up the chicken part (and with any luck, a blue claw crab) at the other end. Do this often enough and you become quite sensitive as to whether a crab is clinging to the chicken at the other end; you feel a subtle, erratic tugging.

And when a crab was revealed at the surface of the water, we all had different ways of letting the others know to get the net so we could whisk him out, everything from ‘I got one!’ to my ‘Mayday’ or ‘I got a lock on blue!’ to ‘Crab on!’

But while we waited, we soaked up that day. It was almost hypnotic—the very gentle rocking of the boat, the sun, wind, salt, and sky.

Disclaimer: it wasn’t all sweetness and light. There was plenty of healthy competition going on between our boats. Every now and again one would float by us and someone would call out, ‘How many do you have?’ ‘Something like 50 by now.’ (Truth!) ‘We have 70!’ (LIE!) No matter what number we gave, they’d say they had 20 more.

But no biggie—back at the dock we pooled every last crustacean. Frank’s family was heading back north to have a feast of crabs sauteed with wine and marinara sauce. I was invited but was too zonked, so I said I’d just take a half-dozen or so home and cook mine there. Frank used tongs to drop a few into my cooler while his father stood on hand saying, ‘Oh, come on! Give her more! Give her a couple more! That’s nothing!’

The biggest one we caught.

Back home I IMed my friend Casey, who’s Japanese, a culture that knows from seafood. He also has a mom who’s a consummate cook and a brother who’s a chef.

‘How long do I boil them?’

‘Blue claws are so delicate. 8 to 10 minutes. And add salt and spices to the water. It’ll create a quick brine.’

I put a few gallons of water into my most colossal stockpot (it’s the one I use to make stock from my 13+ lb. Thanksgiving turkey, if that gives you an idea of its size. Probably would have been quicker to have my fire department hose in the water.) and added salt, whole black peppercorns, ground white and pink peppercorns, 8 whole, peeled, smashed garlic cloves (done by pressing the blade of a knife flat onto the cloves), some Old Bay, and 5 bay leaves.

The brew.

While that came to a boil, I set to work on the crabs, which had been rattling around in my cooler all this time. I opened the top and they were making a constant sound that was a cross between a buzz and bubbles popping, like in soda.

Okay.

I shook them into my blessedly-deep sink and washed them off with the faucet. True to their nature, they had a little problem with this. The crab in the upper left hand corner below showed his own personal brand of antagonism by clawing and swatting at the stream of water. (Note: if you keep them on ice better than I did, they’ll be too mellow yellow to give you a hard time.)

The brew boiled, I dropped them in in batches, one, two, three.

So, so not amused.

I’d like to say the next few hours were spent placidly shelling, cooking, eating, and resting. They were instead spent shelling. And not placidly. And it took so long that I didn’t have any crab cakes that night. Thought to myself that when I finally tasted them, I’d better see God.

When I was done shelling, my fingers were numb in some places and nicked in others, the counter was drenched, and itty-bitty pieces of red shell were strewn around my red-tiled kitchen floor. At least I think they were. I couldn’t see them to pick them all up, so I just vacuumed.

Click click clack clack clack click click. Yeah, thought so.

I’m a patient person, but man. Next year I’ll go have dinner with Frank’s family and not have to deal with this. I took the scant 2 cups I got from those 14 crabs, mixed them with mayonnaise, black pepper, chopped organic leeks from Silverton Farms in Toms River, and my homemade bread crumbs. 6 cakes. 6 microscopic cakes. Thinking: FAIL.

Cooked them at 400 degrees until crisp, shoveled a couple into a folded piece of pizza bread made by a Roman baker in north Jersey, sprinkled them with Mazi piri-piri-smoked-habanero sauce, closed up the sandwich, took a bite. And started dreaming about next August on the river.

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