When we go to the grocery store as a family, we always have a game plan. I take one of our three-year-old twins, and Karen takes the other twin and our son. We do this as a simple act of survival. Move quickly, divide the store into the dairy side and the vegetable side, meet in the middle and get the hell out of there as fast as we can. The potential for meltdowns, whether from the kids or me, is excessively likely. So we move. With intention and desperation.
Karen and I use a grocery shopping app on our phones (GroceryIQ, if you care to know), so we can see what the other person has already found and what remains. We each get a set of aisles in the store, and we check off the items as they go into our respective carts. Add in a quick text message as needed, and we can fly through the store with a manic efficiency.
Sometimes, you get a call from your wife saying, “We’re in the seafood section. Get over here. Now.”
I spun the cart around with one of the girls in it, her Hello Kitty sandals barely holding on to her feet, and we found them all peering at a steel table as Karen wielded a set of long tongs.
“Get it, mom!”
She plunged her hand down, carefully squeezing the tongs. After a minor struggle, she lifted her tongs, just as she saw me approaching. She lifted her catch high in the air as I came closer and triumphantly called out, “They’ve got crawfish!”
Some of the best things going here in Atlanta are the farmers markets. Except, they're not farmers markets at all. Your DeKalb Farmers Market is Karen’s favorite (I prefer Buford Highway for the tortillas and Korean produce). Your DeKalb is more like a crazed import/grocery store hopped up on a fresh batch of meth after a three-day bender that involved a few crates of persimmons, a barrel of olive oil and a half-dozen smoked pig feet (if you follow me). It’s part bulk produce and spice shop, part bakery, part specialty cheese shop, and part butcher. Now take what you have in mind and triple the chaos and volume and you’re somewhere closer to an accurate view of Your DeKalb. So, it's pretty great. But do not, under any circumstances, go there on a Sunday afternoon around 1:00. Because this is when churchgoers pull into the parking lot by the hundreds, and shit gets real.
Karen happened to be in the seafood section showing two of our kids the giant trout swimming around in clear plastic tanks above their heads when a worker came up and dumped out a large bucket of crawfish. Karen said grown men dove for the tongs. The kids shouted that they “MUST SEE THE BABY LOBSTERS, NOW!” And that’s when she called me.
As I pulled up with the cart and the third child, we immediately lost control of the situation. That’s when one of the girls, with the Hello Kitty sandals, nearly climbed in with the crawfish.
Here’s the thing about our kids...they are a lot. They are amazing. They are funny and exasperating and just as prone to make each other laugh as they are to make each other cry. But god love them for having no fear, or almost none, in situations where I would expect them to freak out and cower. Instead, our kids dive face first into a mess of what they call baby lobsters.
We took turns with the kids, helping them use the tongs to grab a crawfish gently enough to not crush it and then place it in a plastic bag to take home. Then each of them wanted to hold a crawfish by its back. Which we helped them do in spite of the sign in front of us that clearly said children were not allowed to handle the seafood because they will probably get hurt and bleed on the floor and don’t sue us for your bad parenting choices, thank you.
We got a ridiculous amount of crawfish. For less than $8.00. And our kids got to be brave and grab on to the backs of baby lobsters.
And then we headed home. With absolutely no clue what we were going to cook.
Some quick searching for crawfish étouffée recipes led us to Saveur. With some adjustments, we made it our own, playing up the heat and black pepper and downplaying the amount of oil in the roux. The heat hits hard, but in the best way possible, demanding you eat faster.
One bite and Karen declared it the best she had ever tasted.
And by the end of our bowls, we were a little sad we hadn’t let the kids put even more crawfish in the bag to bring home.
Recipe | Crawfish (or Crayfish, whatever) Étouffée , adapted from Saveur
- 2 pounds, live crawfish
- 2 tblsp. + 2 tsp. kosher salt, divided
- 1 tsp. cayenne pepper (or a little more)
- 2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp. dried basil
- 1⁄2 tsp. dried thyme
- 1⁄4 c. canola oil
- 1/2 c. flour
- 1⁄4 c. finely chopped onion
- 1⁄4 c. finely chopped celery
- 1⁄4 c. finely chopped red bell pepper
- 3 c. chicken broth
- 12 tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed
- 1 c. finely chopped scallions
- Cooked white rice, for serving
Prepare the Crawfish
Please note that we realize that people get very passionate (read that as "crazy") about their crawfish/crayfish. As Karen says, "We didn't use spices while cooking the crawfish because we did all the spicing up in the étouffée. Make some kind of statement that we're not from Louisiana and there are many ways to boil and spice crawfish. We did it the Protestant way." I think that says it all.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
Meanwhile, get another large pot and dump the crawfish into it. Crawfish are filthy and angry creatures, so get ready. Start filling the pot with water until the crawfish are completely covered. Let them hang for a few minutes and then dump the mothers into a colander. Repeat this two more times or until you no longer see sediment in the bottom of the pot.
Once the water is boiling, add two tablespoons of salt (Kosher? Yes) to the water and then add in the crawfish. Congratulations, you just murdered your dinner.
Boil the crawfish for two minutes. Then put the lid on the pot and move it off of the burner. Let it sit for 15 minutes, then dump the crawfish into a colander and rinse well with cold water to stop the cooking process. Let them cool until you're ready to rip apart their bodies.
Yank the tails of the crawfish by holding on to their backs with one hand and then tug/twist their tails off of them. You are a monster. Now get the funk off of it. Karen yelled at me not to wash off the funk because it rinses off the flavor. So be strong and get the funk off as best you can. Also, grow up. You just murdered your food. Let's not get all delicate now, sweetheart.
You can get the tail exoskeleton off by squeezing the sides firmly until you feel it give away, and then peel it off from the tail meat.
Now go drink some wine or gin. You just turned your kitchen into a slaughterhouse. Wash away your sins with something stronger than a diet soda. Unless it is Tab. Tab is the best and goes well with any situation, including mass murder of small creatures. Everyone knows this is true.
Call your mom and apologize for all the shitty things you did growing up. Cry.
Better? Great. Now let's get our roux on.
Make the Étouffée
Combine the remaining two teaspoons of salt, cayenne, black pepper, basil, and thyme in a little bowl. Set the bowl aside.
If you have an enameled pot, get it out and heat it up. If you, like us, buy cheap enameled pots at Marshall's that chip easily and you shouldn't be using that thing anymore, then get a large, heavy-bottomed pot heating on high.
Add the oil. Once it starts smoking, add in the flour evenly across the oil and whisk like crazy, for a minute or so.
Now, ideally you're going to turn down the heat to medium low, and stirring frequently with a big wooden spoon, you'll brown the roux you just made for 30 minutes until it's looking like dark chocolate. Or, if like me, you forget you're cooking with an electric stove that retains the burner heat, this will happen in 7 minutes.
Add the onion and cook until softish, around 5 minutes.
Remove the pot from the heat and add in the bell pepper and celery along with one tablespoon of the spice mixture. Stir until combined.
In a saucepan, heat up the chicken broth until it boils. Once it's boiling, get the roux mixture back on medium heat and slowly whisk in the broth until combined, about two minutes. Move the pan off the heat. I know, it's a lot of moving it on and off, but buck up, you murderer.
In another saucepan over medium-high heat, melt 8 tablespoons of the butter. Add in the crawfish tails and scallions. Stir. Cook for a minute and then add in the remaining spice mixutre. Stir and then add it all into the roux, stirring until mostly combined. Add in the remaining butter and stir until shiny and glossy.
Serve the étouffée in a shallow bowl (or eat directly out of the pan) and top with rice and the chopped scallions. We made yellow rice by adding tumeric and a pinch each of cinnamon and cloves while the rice cooked.