by Malia Kirby L.Ac.
A guy I know once told me back in the day that he wouldn’t be able to attend an upcoming dinner party because he never ate any cut of meat one might find at the butcher or fish monger because the bones reminded him that he was eating something that was once alive. Same went for his vegetables and grains, they had to be peeled, chopped (or minced), and overcooked. Preferably mashed. Still today, over a decade after that statement was made, I am baffled by it. Even writing it out, I find myself staring at it, wondering where, exactly, our dietary perspectives jumped the tracks. I mean, really? No barbeque pork ribs? No crab boil? No sashimi? No tomatoes pulled right off the vine and eaten in the sun? No watermelon? Crikey. What does one eat with that viewpoint? How did we get here, where a processed chicken nugget consisting of mechanically separated and recovered poultry that is salted, breaded, and deep-fried beyond recognition alongside two or three potatoes cut into matchsticks and fried…twice…is considered to be more edible than a perfectly grilled hamachi or shake kama?
Our so-called ethical dilemmas are starting to resemble self-sabotage and convoluted eating disorders if we feel more comfortable eating processed junk that we know will kill us in order to avoid feeling guilty over the fact that in order to eat and live, other living beings must die. Even vegans aren’t off the hook on this one, no matter how long or loud the protest. Death is death. Whether or not what’s on your plate had a face at one point is irrelevant. So, for today, a lesson in tasty, spicy death, coinciding perfectly with crawfish season and the widely celebrated Easter holiday, one which revolves entirely around the myth of death and rebirth. You know, kind of like the biological circle of life and death.
- Crawfish are called mudbugs down in NOLA for a reason. They’ll need a good washing and purging before you cook them up or you’ll be tasting everything they’ve eaten. To get this accomplished, you’ll need a large cooler (this is easier to do outside, by the way) and a box of kosher salt (or whatever you’ve got as long as it isn’t iodized). Empty your bag of crawfish into the cooler and hose them off, leaving the drainage hole open. Now, close the drain, start filling the cooler with water, adding the entire box of salt (don’t worry—you’re using the salt here as you would with mang xiao in the pharmacy, as a purgative agent, not as flavoring). Once the crawfish are covered with water, cover the cooler and let them sit and do their thing. Drain the water (make sure you aren’t draining the salted water over a prized garden specimen here) and hose the crawfish off. Re-plug the drain and fill the cooler back up with water. Repeat this process until the water remains relatively clear.
- Crawfish are called xiao long xia, or little dragon shrimp, in China for a reason. They can be feisty and will happily claw their way through you, your children, and your dog to the nearest body of water, even your koi pond. Mind the claws and keep an eye on them to avoid acts worthy of Houdini.
- To eat, rip off the tail, suck the juices from the head, then remove the tail meat from the shell.
- If you’d like to make more than one batch, keep these exact proportions of spice to crawfish. I know 60 chiles and ¼ c hua jiao looks intimidating enough for two pounds of crawfish. It isn’t. Remember, you’re cooking through the shell, so if you reduce the chile/huajiao/crawfish ratio, they’re going to be a little anemic. If you’re into spicy food, you might even want to increase the amount of chile peppers here. Trufax.
- Need help finding peppers? If you don’t have a local Asian market, Savory Spice Shop can help you out at www.savoryspiceshop.com for Sichuan peppercorns if you don’t stock them in your pharmacy. For Facing Heaven chiles, check out Chilli Pepper Pete at www.chillipepperpete.com.
½ c refined grapeseed oil
10-12 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 3” piece fresh ginger, sliced
3-4 green onions, cut to 2” long pieces
1-2 pods star anise
60 dried red “Facing Heaven” chiles (chao tian jiao)
¼ c Sichuan peppercorns (hua jiao)
2 lbs live crawfish, washed and purged
½ c soy sauce
2 T Shaoxing rice wine
Heat the oil in a large wok over high heat.
Once the wok is hot enough to scald hell, add the garlic, ginger, and green onion and stir fry until fragrant, 30 seconds – 1 minute.
Add the star anise, the chiles (crush these as you’re adding them to the wok) and the hua jiao, stirring for 30 seconds.
Add the crawfish to the wok and stir-fry until brilliant red-orange, approximately 2-4 minutes. Add the soy sauce and rice wine, tossing to fully coat. Transfer to a large serving bowl; serve immediately with cold beer. Steamed rice is optional.
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