Let the good times boil

By Don Bingham

Invite the neighborhood, the church small group, the in-laws and outlaws! We’re having a southern crawfish boil! The men gather under the giant oak tree or tailgate-size tents and the women are in the house catching up on the latest news and making last-minute adjustments to the side dishes. Everyone gets along, and even the kids are playing on the trampoline and having a great time!

Photos by Mike Kemp

The crawfish are now washed, and the men are quartering onions, halving lemons and discussing each one’s idea of the correct amounts of seasonings that must go into the pot, if the flavor is to be successful. Some of the boys are encouraged to add salt, cayenne pepper and garlic to the boiling pot of water. Fresh ears of corn and the new red potatoes are added at this point and left to cook until tender. It’s time! Time to add the crawfish while everyone is watching – this delectable southern dish will soon be ready to pour out of the huge stock post onto the tabletop for a feasting delight. 

The host has custom-built two large rectangular tables with epoxy tops, each with a circular opening in the middle of the table. Plastic-lined trash cans are placed under the table, and guests simply throw the shells from the crawfish directly into the center opening of the table. This level of competency is for the serious crawfish chef and makes clean-up much quicker and easier. The volume level of talk is diminished while guests intently peel and sometimes, ‘suck’ the heads of the crawfish and peel the crawfish for the delicate meat, all done with their fingers! 

The two chefs for this block party are Brannon Runions and Joseph Bingham. Many of the invited guests brought side dishes to go along with the crawfish and shrimp, including side dishes for those who are allergic to shellfish. The process is a long one, from the purchasing of the ice chests full of live crawfish and the washing procedures, to the boiling of the large stock pots of seasoned water, and the time-consuming peeling of the tiny, delectable wonders – but the process is well worth the fun, the fellowship and the feasting!

The Joe Binghams and the Brannon Runions will do six to ten crawfish boils during the crawfish season; this takes dedication and perseverance. At this boil, we all consumed three hundred dollars worth of crawfish and a much lesser amount of shrimp. Crawfish boils have been around for a long time, mostly born out of the Cajun and Creole traditions of cooking. Chef John D. Folse of Louisiana has written The Evolution of Cajun and Creole Cuisine. Chef Folse, a Certified Executive Chef, actively promotes Cajun cuisine worldwide and his influence is enjoyed in the 501 population.

Crawfish are available in the late spring months of the year and more readily accessible in the Little Rock markets. Try your hand at the Crawfish Boil and “let the good times roll!”

Boiled Crawfish 

30 quarts cold water

12 medium onions, quartered

6 heads of garlic, split in half, exposing pods

1 dozen lemons, quartered

1 quart cooking oil

4 pounds salt

1/2 pound cayenne pepper

4 3-ounce bags crab boil

24 medium red potatoes

12 ears of corn

50 pounds cleaned crawfish

Live crawfish may be purchased already washed from your seafood supplier. However, a second rinsing in cold water is best. The purging of crawfish — that is, washing the crawfish in cold salted water — is a step in the process that many will do; true Cajun chefs, however, consider this unnecessary and will skip the purging. Rinsing in cold water will suffice. In a sixty-quart stockpot, bring water to a rolling boil. Add onions, garlic, lemons, cooking oil, salt, pepper and crab boil and continue to boil for thirty minutes. This boiling of the vegetables will ensure a good flavor in the boiling liquid. Add red potatoes and cook for approximately ten to twelve minutes. Add corn and cook for ten minutes before adding the crawfish. Once the water returns to a boil, cook crawfish for seven to ten minutes, turn off heat and allow to set in boiling liquid for twelve additional minutes. Crawfish should be served hot with potatoes and corn and beverages of choice!

Summer Focaccia

The following recipe for Summer Focaccia was a recipe given by Tammy Driggers, a guest at the Crawfish Boil.

5 cups of all-purpose flour 

(I prefer King Arthur; it just sounds like royal bread!)

1 1/2 packets of quick-acting yeast

2 teaspoons sea salt

2 cups of lukewarm water (in separate cups)

Good quality olive oil

Time: 20-24 hours

Supplies: 9X13 baking pan, large bowl, spatula, 

2 measuring cups, plastic wrap, tea towel, small spoon, and oven.

Mix yeast in 1 cup of lukewarm water, stir gently, and set aside. Sift flour and sea salt together in a large bowl. Pour the cup of yeast water into the flour mixture. Stir gently with spatula, adding remaining water. Scrape the sides and gently stretch and fold the dough over and over itself until it becomes sticky and separates from the bowl, about 3-4 minutes. This is a very wet dough.

When the dough has separated from the sides of the bowl, pick it up and shape it gently into a ball and place back in the bowl. Pour generous amounts of olive oil over the dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or tea towel, secure around the bowl with a rubber band, and place in the refrigerator to rise overnight for 10-12 hours.

Remove from the fridge and let rest for 30 minutes. Using a spatula, fold dough over itself several times. Cover the bottom of a 9X13 sheet cake pan with olive oil. Pour dough into a cake pan and cover with plastic wrap/tea towel and let rise for 2 hours. Uncover and gently push dough to ends and sides of pan with fingers, without tearing. Cover with a tea towel and let rest for 30 minutes. 

Dip your fingers in cold water to prevent dough from sticking to your hands and press into dough with your fingertips until you have little dimples in the dough all over the bread. Drizzle more olive oil over the bread, sprinkle with coarse sea salt or your favorite salt and rosemary. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven, middle rack, until bread is brown on top, about 30-40 minutes.

Topping options: before baking, add the baker’s choice of the following to the dimpled top of the bread dough: grape tomatoes, olives, roasted garlic cloves, thin slices of onion, feta or Parmesan shaving, and lemon zest.

Don Bingham
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