Seafood Celebration

Summer means seafood – lots of it! Lucky us: We have access to an abundance of shrimp, crabs and a variety of saltwater fish from the Gulf of Mexico and the adjoining bays.

Many summers found me catching crabs off the pier of our camp at Cypremort Point on Vermilion Bay. There were times too that Papa and I would take off in the boat just as the sun rose to try our hand at catching shrimp at one of the small dams at Marsh Island. I mastered a cast net by the time I was 12 years old, and I couldn’t wait to get back to the camp to make a shrimp étouffée garnished with finely chopped hard-boiled eggs. Mama sometimes managed to talk us out of a couple of pounds of our catch to make shrimp salad or fried shrimp poor boys. Life was indeed good!

And if that wasn’t enough, Papa and I would often drive down the road to purchase soft-shell crabs from a fellow who had a large shed crowded with shallow troughs where crabs scuttled about in the tepid water circulated through a web of small pipes and tubes. I remember watching the burly fellow working silently but quickly, scanning and picking up the just-molted soft-shell crabs and discarding the shed shells. 

There were also the days that my Uncle George and I would head out to his favorite fishing spots, Dry Reef and the Trash Pile, hoping to catch a few speckled trout or redfish with which to make a court bouillon or bouillabaisse.

If we returned with more than enough, there would be fried fish to have with Mama’s famous potato salad. What more can one ask?

My friend the late Henry Mayer from Lafayette showed me how to “barbecue” crabs one summer at his camp when crabs were more than plentiful.

Henry’s Barbecued Crabs
2 dozen live blue crabs
Cayenne pepper
1 pound butter
3 tablespoons Zatarain’s Concentrated
    Liquid Crab & Shrimp Boil
1 tablespoon lemon pepper seasoning mix
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon paprika
6 lemons, quartered

Run very hot tap water over the live crabs. This will stun them so they can’t pinch. Pull the back off the crab, and clean out the “dead man fingers,” lungs and center of the crabs. Crack the claws, but do not remove the shells.

Sprinkle the crabs generously with salt and cayenne. Combine the butter, liquid boil, lemon pepper, garlic powder, Worcestershire and paprika in a saucepan. Squeeze the lemons, and add the juice and the lemon pieces to the butter mixture. Heat over low heat until the butter is melted. With a basting brush, brush about one-third of the sauce all over the crabs. 

Place the crabs cavity-side down on the grill of a barbecue pit over a medium to low fire, and close the lid of the pit. Cook for about 10 minutes. Turn the crabs over, and fill the cavities with more of the butter sauce. Close the lid, and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes. Time will vary according to the heat of the fire and the size of the crabs. Brush the remaining butter sauce on the crabs, and serve immediately. Serves 4 to 6.

Grilled Soft-Shell Crabs
6 jumbo crabs
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
6 tablespoons margarine
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

With a pair of kitchen shears, cut each crab across the face. Remove the eye sockets and the lower mouth. Carefully lift up the apron, and remove the gills. Gently rinse crabs with cool water, and pat them dry.

Sprinkle the crabs with the salt and pepper. Melt the margarine in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the hot sauce and lemon juice, and stir to mix. Remove from the heat, and cool for several minutes. Put the crabs in a shallow bowl, and pour the butter sauce over them. Let stand for about 10 minutes.

Remove the crabs from the butter sauce, and place them on a grill over a medium-hot fire. Close the lid of the grill, and cook for about 4 minutes. Turn the crabs over, close the lid, and cook for 4 to 5 minutes or until the crabs are slightly crusty. Baste with the butter sauce, and serve. Serves 6.

Shrimp-and-Garlic Kebabs
12 to 16 large garlic cloves, peeled
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup tomato sauce
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or
    1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of sugar
2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and
    deveined (leave the tails on)

Drop the whole garlic cloves into boiling water, and boil for about 3 minutes. Drain, and set aside. Combine the olive oil, tomato sauce, vinegar, basil, minced garlic, salt, cayenne, black pepper and sugar in a large bowl, and stir to mix well. Add the shrimp, and toss to coat evenly. Cover, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Remove the shrimp from the marinade, and reserve any of the marinade left in the bowl. Thread the shrimp and whole garlic cloves alternately on skewers. Put the skewers on the grill (if you prefer, the kebabs can be arranged in a wire grill rack or basket). Grill, turning them several times and brushing them with the reserved marinade for 6 to 8 minutes or until the shrimp turn pink. Serves 4 to 6.

Papa’s Bouillabaisse
2 1/2 pounds fish fillets, such as snapper, redfish or speckled trout
3 cups coarsely chopped yellow onions
2 cups coarsely chopped green bell
2 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 stick butter
2 1-pound cans whole tomatoes, mashed
    with their can juices
1 pound medium-size shrimp, peeled
    and deveined
1 pound lump crabmeat, picked over for
    shells and cartilage
4 bay leaves
1/3 cup dry white wine
8 slices French bread, toasted
Rouille (recipe follows)

Season the fillets generously with salt and cayenne.

Combine the onions, bell peppers, celery and garlic in a bowl, and season with salt and cayenne.

Heat the butter in a deep, heavy pot over medium heat. Put two to three fillets of fish in the bottom of the pot in the butter. Then add one-third of the vegetable mixture, followed by one-third of the tomatoes. Continue making the layers until all the ingredients are used. Put the shrimp, crabmeat and bay leaves over the final layer. Pour in the wine, cover, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer for one hour (do not remove the lid).

To serve, put a slice of French bread in the bottom of a soup bowl, and then ladle the soup over it. Pass the rouille with more toasted French bread. Serves 8.

2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley leaves
Salt and black pepper to taste

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl, and whisk to blend.

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