16 June 2012

Food Lab: Field Trip

The weekend of May 19-20, your intrepid Food Labbers PLANNED to lab homemade pizza dough. We were going to lab gluten free, we were going to lab baking versus grilling, we were set...until  Frederick Beer Week, and more specifically, Firkin Fest came along. How could we resist?

So we car pooled up to Stillpoint Farm for a day of food, music, and beer tasting (and hops-admiring) in the bright sunshine.

We quickly realized three things:
  1. Mad Kitchen Scientist's home brews were better than any of the home brews being presented for "tastes" (that were much more akin to full pours).
  2. Of the local micro-brewers who were there, Barley & Hops brews were the favorites.
  3. We were going to need dinner when we got home.
Chef Spouse hadn't been able to join us because he had to work. We got talking about crab cakes and realized we wanted to impromptu lab them, so we called Chef Spouse and asked him to make a pit stop at the fish market on his way home.

The main goal any crab cake is to have it be as nearly 100% crab as possible without falling apart. Common binders include bread crumbs, mayonnaise, egg, or some combination of the above.

Mad Kitchen Scientist had learned a new binder technique: shrimp paste. No, not the prepared Asian ingredient you can buy - actually turning some shrimp into a paste. We labbed them against Chef Spouse's current favorite preparation, as detailed in Donald Link's Real Cajun cookbook.

Of course, we also made fries and aioli. Of course, Chef Spouse's aioli broke enough times that we had to send The Executive Committee to the corner store for more eggs. Of course, we stuck to our "no egg white left behind!" motto. Of course, there were a LOT of egg whites to be turned into various sorts of fizzes.

There wasn't a clear winner in the crab cakes, both of them being delicious. The Donald Link cakes are spicier (big surprise). Using the shrimp as a binder left the alternative cakes tasting a bit of, well, shrimp. Mama IA suggested that a way around that would be to use a mild tasting white fish as a binder instead. Next time...

The following day, we had a colleague (that's him in the photo) and his wife over for our first ever crawfish boil.

Alton Brown did an episode of Good Eats a while back on crawfish boils, and Chef Spouse had been hanging onto it in anticipation of this day. Alton discusses the merits of pre-soaking your crawfish to clean them out. Which is a great idea. Assuming you have an aquarium pump to get air into the water. We didn't. As a result, we experienced near 100% casualties in the five pounds of crawfish we bought Saturday and soaked in the big tub overnight. Lord, did that stink!

Anyway, we boogied back to the fish market Sunday morning once our guests arrived, purchased another five pounds of crawfish, and all was well. Particularly once the cooking process was accompanied by my colleague's fantastic basil gimlets, which is just what it sounds like - a gin gimlet with basil in it. Delish!

Boils are actually not that complicated - buy or find a good spice mix (once again, Donald Link won't steer you wrong), get a big pot of water boiling, dump in your boil spices, dump in your mudbugs, cover, turn off the heat, let them sit for about 20 minutes, drain, and eat. Preferably outside off newspaper. Which is exactly what we did.

I see a crawfish rig in our future...and probably an aquarium pump.

(We are planning to revisit the aborted pizza dough lab later this month.)

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