Monday, May 21, 2012

Mudbugs at Aunt Jenny's

2 pounds per person = too much
A month or so ago Justine decided she wanted to start a tradition of communal family dinners on Sundays. I was game. We swap weeks and our father brings wine. Very quickly, the standards of hospitality ratcheted up and I'm not really sure where they can go from here. Last week, Justine's husband shucked 100 Tomales Bay oysters and grilled ribeye steaks. Justine baked a rhubarb crisp. How do you top that? You don't, but you do need to make a festive gesture. I got the idea for a crayfish boil from Fran Gage's Bread and Chocolate and a great idea it was.

oh, the hilarity
Yesterday morning, I drove to a grimy little bait shop in the Sacramento River Delta and bought 18 pounds of live crayfish which I packed in a large cooler. It was somewhat distasteful buying food at a bait shop, but the attendant assured me these crayfish were fresh and delicious and he had just finished cleaning them.
Straight out of the muck, they look like roaches.
I drove home and spent the day cooking.

The menu:

-Fran Gage's mushroom puffs from Bread and Chocolate. These are twist on gougeres with chopped mushrooms standing in for cheese. Warm and pillowy, they would have been even better with mushrooms and cheese. Is anything better when you eliminate the cheese?
Is that angel having a drink?
-boiled crayfish. I was going to try Gage's recipe (onions, celery, peppercorns, etc.), but the bait shop guy handed me a packet of Cajun spices, which seemed a lot easier. In our driveway, we boiled water in a giant pot on the propane burner and stirred in the powder and crayfish along with corn on the cob. That was that.

He's a good sport, but he'd rather be having burgers.
-potato salad with sake from Bread and Chocolate. I overcooked the potatoes, which was not Gage's fault. You toss warm potatoes with sake, then add olive oil, salt and chives, and the results were very tasty, but texturally wrong. My 6-year-old niece Stella said, "Can I have some more mashed potatoes, Aunt Jenny?" I corrected her: "It's actually potato salad." Justine shot me a meaningful look and said, "Mashed potatoes."

-cherries jubilee. I was going to bake Gage's chocolate cherry tart, but the day seemed too bright and springy for chocolate so instead, I made cherries jubilee (Joy of Cooking recipe) which entails macerating cherries in kirsch, cooking them down with some sugar, flaming the crimson compote with brandy, stirring in butter, and serving over vanilla ice cream.

The cherries were good, but the homemade vanilla ice cream was beyond good. I wanted to try something out of Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones (the new Bi-Rite Creamery cookbook) even though I have an excellent vanilla ice cream recipe of my own. This one might be better. I don't know. It's impossible to judge without a side-by-side tasting and that is something I will probably never get around to.
All in all, a fine dinner.

But of course: undercurrents.

At one point, I called the crayfish "mudbugs" and for the rest of the meal my 2-year-old nephew Ben would cry out, "More bugs!" Stella was more polite. She would say, "Can I please have another bug?" Every time one of them would ask for another bug, their Aunt Jenny, who'd drunk a glass or two of wine by then, said, "Oh, I love you so much! A girl after my own heart! A little boy after own heart!" It was probably nauseating, but everyone needs an effusive, ridiculous  aunt.
not the best picture of my handsome nephew
Meanwhile, my husband ate about five mudbugs and wandered off. Isabel flatly refused to touch one and wandered off. Owen lectured me on animal cruelty and flatly refused to touch one, though he stayed at the table because he is sociable and I think he is secretly intrigued by food.

But I am probably fooling myself. He declined cherries on his ice cream. Stella, by contrast, ate up all her cherries jubilee and when it turned out there was no ice cream left for seconds, requested cherries on their own because they were so buttery and delicious.

At least I get to spend Sundays with them.


  1. Two pounds of crawfish per person is not too much! My husband and I were so disappointed on our last trip to Houston. We had been planning our eating strategy for weeks, nay, months! A major destination was the Ragin' Cajun, where we intended to get a bucket of crawfish.

    Only we'd forgotten it wasn't crawfish season.

    And they don't sell crawfish up in the frozen north, I don't think.

    We would happily have eaten four pounds, had we only been able to get it.

    At least we got the chicken-fried steak. But 18 months later, we are still mourning the lack of crawfish.

  2. class factotum -- you are correct. My caption needed a footnote, which was that I bought 18 pounds for 9 people, 3 of whom basically (or literally) didn't eat. One of the 6 who did eat was 2 years old and the other was 6. So we had 18 pounds for 4 people and yes, there was little left over, but not all that much!

  3. Suck heads, pinch tails is how the crawfish eating process is described in southern Louisiana. And you know it's good when crawfish juice is dripping off your elbow. You did the right thing using the Cajun spices and putting newspaper on the table. I'll be in New Orleans in a couple days and plan to get some mudbugs. Your Sunday family dinners sound fantastic. Cherries Jubilee! Oh my!

  4. Separate topic: I have that recipe scanned. Did you once say your email was

    I can attach and email.

  5. How is your Reblochon coming along? I made some a few months ago and it was very good. also, did you use goats' milk for your ice cream? Does it taste different?

  6. Margaret -- yes, thank you! I will look forward to it.
    Kristin -- Last I checked, the reblochon was still very damp and there were some spots of disturbing mold -- blackish. I will go down and look today. I have a bad feeling. The raw goat's milk camembert, though, is a thing of beauty. I can not wait to try that one.
    As for the ice cream, I have used goat's milk (though not in the vanilla ice cream I described) and it doesn't taste at all different. I know there are probably subtle differences, but I've been using goat's milk interchangeably with cow's. We still buy cow's bc some people find pouring the goat's milk on cereal a turnoff.

  7. One more thing--I taught a pizza-making class the other day, and one pair of students raises goats in order to make soap from their milk. They gave me a bar of it at the end of the class. They carve it into trapezoids and slide each bar into a corrugated cardboard sleeve, then stick a label on that (portrait of goat on the label.) It is ever so charming. I don't ever buy fancy soap, but this is really nice. And soap doesn't take up any space in the refrigerator.

  8. Patricia Calef5/26/12, 4:11 PM

    We always called them crawdads. Love them.

  9. Aha! The difference between an auntie's food and a mother's food.....

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  11. I have a bad feeling. The raw goat's milk camembert, though, is a thing of beauty. I can not wait to try that one. TargetPayandBenefits Login
    As for the ice cream, I have used goat's milk (though not in the vanilla ice cream I described) and it doesn't taste at all different. I know there are probably subtle differences, but I've been using goat's milk interchangeably with cow's.