Sunday, March 20, 2011
Crawfish pies with spinach and grapefruit salad
There is a very old and celebrated Hank Williams song about Louisiana called "Jambalaya." The chorus goes thusly:
Jambalaya, a-crawfish pie and-a file gumbo
'Cause tonight I'm gonna see my ma cher amio
Pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gay-oh
Son of a gun, we'll have big fun on the bayou.
Those of you who haven't spent a lot of time in the Deep South may need a dictionary, but we've all heard of jambalaya and gumbo, right? Crawfish pie, maybe not. That is about to change.
This was the first time I've ever made them myself, and they were awesome. Flaky pastry stuffed with spicy thick oozy bubbly delicious crawfish filling, yes, please. You could certainly substitute shrimp if you can't find crawfish tails, but it just won't be the same... Nothing replaces crawfish. Look for them in flat one-pound packages in the frozen seafood section of fancier grocery stores (unless you're in the South, where you can find them in most regular crappy grocery stores too). Do try to buy only Louisiana crawfish - the Chinese ones may taste alright, but they're the polar opposite of local.
Now, this is not for the faint of heart. It is not a dish one eats while "on a diet," it is serious butter-and-floury goodness. But that doesn't mean it can't be part of a healthy diet - life's too short, right? We moved around a little extra and ate healthfully today to even it out. That's just all there is to it.
For a side, I felt like we needed something acidic to balance out the fat and remembered this great grapefruit salad I found a few years ago. If you're anti-grapefruit it would be lovely with oranges too, but grapefruit (particularly gorgeous Texas grapefruits like this one) really hums with the honey and twang of mustard.
This is from a cookbook my cute husband gave me (he's no fool, right?) called Screen Doors and Sweet Tea, by Martha Hall Foose. This is actually the first recipe I've made from it but it will absolutely not be the last. I think I'll try her fried black-eyed pea cakes next.
It's pretty hard to take a picture of these suckers, but I couldn't deprive you of seeing the insides.
Did I mention they're dead easy? Make them. Do note that the recipe as written below serves 4, not my usual 2. I made a few very minor changes, decreasing the butter in the filling (we didn't notice in the slightest) and adding a hot red Fresno chili instead of red bell pepper. I simply froze the other two portions of dough and filling (separately) so I can whip them up again soon in no time. Also of note, these would be amazing made into little bitty pies as appetizers (and indeed they're in the "party food" section of her book at this size - dang, Martha!).
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup finely diced onion, finely diced
1/4 cup green bell pepper, finely diced
1/4 cup celery, finely diced
1 small red Fresno chili (it's "Eat the Heat" month at Central Market, I couldn't resist them), finely diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup all-purpose flour (the recipe calls for cake flour which is the one kind I don't really keep around, but all-purpose worked just fine)
1 cup clam juice (or shrimp stock if you have it)
dash of Tabasco
dash of Tony's (or your Cajun seasoning of choice, but Tony's is the best)
1/2 lb peeled crawfish tails
1 egg, separated
2 tbsp milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
~ 2 tbsp ice water
1/2 tbsp cider vinegar
1/2 tbsp honey
1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp shallot, minced
~ 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (I like to use the "good" stuff in salad dressings, where it is essentially raw)
couple of big handfuls of baby spinach
1 grapefruit, peeled and sliced into supremes
Melt the butter in a large saute pan. Add the onion, bell pepper, celery, and Fresno chili with a little pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground pepper and allow to soften for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme and tomato paste and work them in for another minute or two. Then, sprinkle in the flour and use a whisk to incorporate - it'll form a pasty but crumbly coating over the vegetables. Cook the flour for a few minutes, breaking up and moving it around the pan with the whisk until it smells toasty. Add the clam juice a little bit at a time, whisking each addition until fully incorporated. It's going to be very thick and pasty. Reduce the heat to a simmer and allow to cook for about 20 minutes, stirring often. Season with a dash of Tabasco and sprinkle of Tony's (Martha doesn't do this but I like to add just a teeny pinch of Cajun seasoning blend whenever I'm making anything Cajun to fill any spice gaps. Be careful though as it's pretty salty, so go easy on adding any more). When the time is up, stir in the crawfish tails and allow to cook another 5 minutes or so. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary, then set aside to cool.
In a food processor, combine the flour, salt, sugar, and butter. Pulse several times until the butter has broken down into those ubiquitous pea-sized lumps, then, with the machine running, drizzle in the ice water slowly. As soon as you see the dough comes together, stop. Turn the dough out on a board, gather into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge for at least half an hour.
When you're ready to eat, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Add the egg white and milk to your cooled crawfish mixture, and put the yolk in a little bowl and beat lightly with a tablespoon of water (this is "egg wash").
Cut your dough ball into quarters (if you're only serving two people, wrap the other half of the dough tightly in plastic wrap and chuck it in the freezer). Using a little flour to keep it from sticking to the board, roll each dough chunk out into a nice thin circle around 6 inches in diameter. Dollop about a quarter of the crawfish mixture right in the middle (again since it was just the two of us, I used a quarter of the whole mixture for each pie and froze the other half of it in a Ziploc). Paint the perimeter of the dough with your egg wash and fold it over to form a half-circle. Crimp closed with a fork. Cut a little vent or two into the top of each pie and paint the whole top surface with egg wash. Place your pies on a baking sheet (I used my Silpat to ensure no sticking or burning) and pop into the oven for about 30 minutes or until golden brown and delicious.
While the pies are cooking, whisk together the cider vinegar, honey, Dijon, and shallot with extra virgin olive oil to make your salad dressing. Decorate the baby spinach with grapefruit supremes and drizzle the dressing on top right before serving.
Serves 4, dough and stuffing can be made ahead and assembled in very little time right before dinner.