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A Curry of Crawfish

4-6 servings

This dish, intentionally or not, betrays a particularly British, even Scottish, influence in its most non-Indian use of flour instead of ground almonds, coconut milk or yogurt as a thickener. Many Scottish curries from nineteenth-century sources include flour, and some British brands of curry powder, including ‘Tiger Tiger,’ do the same. In Louisiana, where the use of a roux is second nature, the technique hews to an indigenous tradition as well. The result is not what you might anticipate, not at all stodgy; the flour allows you to use not only much less oil than in traditional Indian preparations, but also facilitates the use of shellfish stock instead of the more viscous alternatives. As a result the curry has a bright, light atmosphere. Thickened stock has an incidental benefit over yogurt too: The curry will not curdle.

-3 Tablespoons peanut oil
-2 cups assorted (green, red, yellow… ) chopped bell pepper
-2 cups chopped onion
-1 heaped teaspoon minced garlic
-3 Tablespoons flour (Wondra preferred)
-1 quart shrimp or crawfish stock
-6 oz pineapple juice
-3 Tablespoons curry paste
-another Tablespoon peanut oil
-1 lb crawfish tails
-a green apple, peeled, cored and cut into ¼ inch dice
-2 zucchini (‘courgette’ in Britain), trimmed and cut into ¼ inch dice
-hot sauce
-3 heaped Tablespoons minced scallions

  1. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet, add the peppers, onion and garlic and fry them over medium heat until they acquire a tinge of pale gold, usually about 10 minutes. Stir the mixture to prevent it from scorching.
  2. Stir the flour into the vegetable mixture and cook it, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes and then whisk the stock, juice and curry paste into the vegetables.
  3. Bring the mixture to a boil, then simmer it on low for at least 20 minutes until the sauce thickens.
  4. Set the other 2 Tablespoons of peanut oil in another skillet on medium high heat; once it shimmers, add the crawfish, apple and zucchini. Cook the mixture until the crawfish tails barely begin to curl, then add the curry mixture, bring it to a boil, and simmer the combined crawfish curry for 5 minutes. Test the seasoning for salt, cayenne and hot sauce, stir in the scallions and serve hot with rice.

Still more notes:

- This is an easy and unusual dish that is suitable for company dinner because you can prepare the sauce at steps 1-3 in advance and then reheat it when it is time to cook the crawfish mixture and finish the dish. You can dice the zucchini in advance and the apple too, as long as you toss the fruit in a little lemon juice to forestall discoloration.

- The recipe at uses slightly different proportions and is vague in spots. It also lists the zucchini as an ingredient but fails to instruct the reader what to do with it.

Bayona- Patak is a good British brand of curry paste (made in Lancashire) that is widely available in the United States. We prefer the mild to the hot version because we like to regulate the spiciness of various dishes ourselves with the addition of cayenne or fresh chilies.

- If you cannot find curry paste, improvise your own by adding enough neutral oil to a decent curry powder to make a thick slurry. Depending on the dish you also may want some tamarind pulp, tomato paste or both. The paste from Patak lists both ingredients.

- Peanut oil is not, strictly speaking, required, but it gives the curry an unmistakable southern tint. If you do not have or like it, substitute canola, corn or another neutral oil.

- Spicer likes to serve the curry the British way, with ‘condiments’ of toasted coconut, chutneys, chopped hard boiled egg, crisp fried onions and chopped nuts. Crumbled bacon would be traditional too.

- Commercial chutneys are perfectly good (Swad brand particularly so) and keep forever but fresh versions are easy to make at home. Spicer includes a snappy recipe for mango chutney that is as foolproof as anything that you heat can get. All you do is fry half a diced red onion with a Tablespoon of minced fresh ginger in a teaspoon of peanut (or neutral) oil over medium heat before adding a peeled, cored and diced green apple to color slightly. Then add a mango that you have peeled, seeded and diced, along with 2 oz each of raisins, sugar and cider vinegar. Reduce the chutney to a simmer for 5-10 minutes until the ingredients marry: Let it cool before serving with the curry.

- In a pinch, substitute commercial clam juice for the shellfish stock, which, however, is quick and easy to make, even if you buy shelled (but always raw) shrimp; they usually come with their tails, which make a perfectly good base for stock. Keep them bagged in the freezer. When you want some shrimp stock, put a handful of tails in a pot with a little more water than you will need stock for your recipe to allow for reduction, along with a couple of celery stalks with their leaves, a split, unpeeled onion, some parsley sprigs and seasonings of whole black peppercorns, a dried red pepper or red pepper flakes and a pinch of good dried thyme. Add splashes of hot sauce and Worcestershire, bring the water to a boil and then simmer it for as little as 20 minutes but no longer than half an hour. Strain the stock and you are ready to go.

Venus in the Kitchen- Sometimes in our studies we encounter a welcome reversal of roles. One such case is that of Norman Douglas and Elizabeth David, in which the debauched old libertine played platonic muse to the beautiful and talented young culinary writer (and, it must be said, fellow libertine). Shortly before his death, however, Douglas got in on the food writing act too and produced Venus in the Kitchen (London 1952), a lively little book that is as beloved of some as it is derided by others, including Alan Davidson. At bfia, we like Venus, quite a bit, but that is a subject for another essay. Douglas offers his readers two crawfish recipes, one for a soup that is more arduous and less interesting than the one from Mrs. Beeton that appears in the lyrical within our ‘Diary of a Crawfisherman,’ and the other with the irresistible title of ‘Crayfish a la Sybarite.’ Like all of Douglas’ recipes, it is minimalist to the point of haiku. Its sensibility is thoroughly English and sounds worth trying:

“Fry lightly in butter two onions and three carrots already sliced finely, with chopped parsley and thyme. Throw in the crayfish [tails]. Cook the[m] on both sides, then add some spice as: a small pinch of cinnamon, a little grated nutmeg, and a pinch or two of paprika. Add a spoonful of butter, and when this is melted, throw in half a bottle of dry champagne, which must never boil. Cook for half an hour and serve hot.” (Venus 30)

- Now this minor masterpiece incites a disclosure and three comments. Douglas may have been talking about spiny warm-water lobster (he warns that “you must already have cut” “the crayfish” “into pieces” before adding them to the pot), but no matter; the recipe sounds perfect for actual crawfish tails. In addition we should note that the usual pound of thawed crawfish tails sounds about right in proportion to the other ingredients for four servings, that a lesser sparkling wine should suffice for the sauce, and finally that although the cooking time seems long for crawfish, it is not unheard of and should work provided that the heat is kept to a bare simmer.

- We would serve his with toast rather than rice (or anything else) and draughts of champagne would seem to be mandatory. britishfoodinamerica will report on our findings once we try the recipe. We hope and trust that the article will not appear in ‘Pizza Delivery.’