Sunday, May 18, 2008

how to pick crabmeat for gumbo

Saturday afternoon at the mad hippie engineer house: there are ten cooked crabs on a platter in the fridge, and the vegetarians are starting to complain about the smell.

Friday night's crab boil was admirable, but misguided - this crowd doesn't have any particular enthusiasm for crustaceans. They've decided that any leftovers will be consigned to the trash by Sunday morning. The crabs will remain untouched as long as they stay whole, classified as too much trouble to eat. You'll reap the benefits of this laziness. Leftover crabs mean gumbo.

To pick crabmeat for gumbo, begin by spreading sheets of newspaper on the kitchen table. Lay out bowls for the shells and the meat. Gather your tools: cracker, crab fork, knife and spoon. Choose a soundtrack for a lazy Saturday afternoon. Pick up the first crab, and begin.

Technique is a matter of preference. Some begin with the claws, twisting them at the joints, cracking them open for the easiest payoff. Others prefer to start with the delicate work, breaking apart the legs to prise out the morsels of meat within. Each crab can be treated as its own separate task. Or it can be carried out assembly-line style, all the legs in one pile and all the claws in the other.

The meat in the body is the trickiest. It takes a steady hand to pry into all the delicate chambers, gently coaxing the white meat from the crab's pearly inner shell. Patience. The crab doesn't yield its treasures easily. Keep working with the pick. The gumbo will be worth the effort, I promise.

Crab, Chicken, and Sausage Gumbo

This doesn't even begin to pretend to be authentic. Kathleen, if you're reading this, don't kill me.

(Picking crabmeat is an easier task with company, but gumbo will serve one for many days. Like all stews, gumbo tastes even better when reheated.)

When all your crabs have been picked over, take your crab shells and place them in a pot with a bay leaf, a quartered onion, and two chopped ribs of celery. Should you have shrimp shells, add those too. Keep the pot at a low simmer until the liquid is dark brown and aromatic.

Set a large, heavy-bottomed pot on the stove over medium heat. Add a generous amount of canola oil or bacon grease. Heat until not quite smoking, then stir in a quarter-cup of flour to make a roux.

Cook the roux, stirring constantly, until it turns chocolate brown. Add one diced onion, one diced green bell pepper, and two or three diced ribs of celery. Add three or four minced cloves of garlic, a dusting of dried thyme, a dash of paprika, and a dash of cayenne pepper. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture is fragrant. Pour in the crab stock, and bring the mixture to a boil.

Peel and dice three or four ripe tomatoes and add them to the pot. If tomatoes are not in season, use a can of diced tomatoes.

Add a cut-up chicken thigh or breast. (Meat from a leftover roast chicken would be ideal, but raw chicken is also fine - just let it cook through before you add any other ingredients.)

Stir in your crabmeat and one or two sliced andouille sausages. Add a few handfuls of sliced okra, and let the mixture simmer for another ten to fifteen minutes, or until the okra is tender.

Serve over white rice with crusty bread. Season to taste with Tabasco. Gumbo goes well with cold beer.


Alex said...

Charles (owner of the oxyacetylene torch) heartily approved, as did Carl. I haven't tried it yet, but I'm not feeling particularly kosher at the moment, so why the heck not?

Kim said...

Growing up in the suburbs of New Jersey, we picked crabs often when they were in season. Never managed to save any of the meat for Gumbo as we were too busy eating them. I am so proud of you for not letting them waste. Gumbo looks great.I just spent the afternoon going through my recipe folders. I found an authentic gumbo from a New Orleans cooking school I went to for the week. Let me know if you want the recipe.
They still have hippies in this day and age?

adele said...

Kim - There are plenty of hippies (or second-generation hippies) on college campuses. :)

Katy said...

Oh my goodness, yum. Sounds like a ton of work, but well worth the effort!

Anonymous said...

It was really really really tasty.

ntsc The said...

I had a great chicken and tasso gumbo Saturday night. If I can find the recipe (it is in our luggage someplace, we hope), I'll post it on myblog.

adele said...

Katy - It's actually quite a relaxing way to spend a nice Saturday afternoon. And preparing the gumbo itself isn't all that complicated.

ntsc the - Chicken and tasso gumbo? Sounds good. :)

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Ah, a good ole' crab pickin'. I too am from Jersey and spent a lot of time with a chicken leg tied to a string in Toms River pulling up the meanest beast to walk the earth: The blue clawed crab.

I may have picked and eaten 10,000 crabs in my time. I've got it down to where I need no other tool but my fingers. Once you get past the first 1,000, you get the hang of it...