Thursday, January 28, 2010

Thai-ish crawfish cakes w/ banana bread crumbs

Why have so many people forgotten what bread crumbs are all about? We seem to live in a world where people throw out stale bread but head to the store to buy bread crumbs in a can or worse yet "seasoned" bread crumbs in a can. Not using stale bread is a waste and missed opportunity and I would include in that category crackers, cake, cookies, chips of all kinds (potato and tortilla especially) donuts (I made awesome apple fritters using dehydrated day-old glazed donuts) and all other types of flour based goods.

A while back I found myself with an aging loaf of banana bread, and being the cheap fucker that I am, I needed to find a use for it. I broke it up and threw it in the oven to dehydrate it. It didn't take long to come up with something. How could crab cakes, Thai-style, with banana bread crumbs be bad. They weren't. I fact they were fantastic.

Having found myself with an abundance of banana bread once again, I decided to recreate that recipe...well kinda'. I didn't have any crab meat but I did have some frozen crawfish tail meat. I also didn't have any homemade curry paste in the freezer (See my post about homemade curry pastes here) so I needed to make a quick simple one. Certainly you could buy a canned one. They work well but if you're fortunate enough to have access to galagal, lemon grass and lime leaves, you can make a nice one at home. I made one with those ingredients along with, dried arbol chiles, garlic, green onions, cumin, coriander and fish sauce pureed with water in the blender. Is it any traditional style? No. Does it taste good? Yes and it only took 5 minutes to prepare.

The rest is also simple. Mix your crawfish meat (or crab meat or shrimp or any other seafood type thing) with the dried and ground banana bread crumbs, your curry paste, an egg and anything else you want. Mix it all together and form it into patties. Now cover those babies in panko. I know, how can I possibly rant about store bought bread crumbs and then suggest panko? Panko rules! They're unique and there isn't really a replacement for them. Now just fry them up. you can refrigerate them to firm them up first if your afraid they will break up in the pan.

Hopefully, next time you find yourself with some stale, overcooked or aging baked goods you wont just throw them away but instead let them guide your creativity.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


The dregs from the pot on day eight.

In this paranoid "Your whole family is going to curl up and die if you leave the potato salad on the picnic table for more than thirty minutes" world we live in it's nice to remind yourself that people successfully survived without refrigeration quite well. So well, in fact, that there are way too many of us dragging our knuckles around the planet. This little experiment that I conducted on myself a few months ago is a good example of just that.

Admittedly, since pepperpot contains cassareep as a preservative, it's not quite the same as "mayo in the sun" but I'm sure the idea of eating the pot of meat you left on your stove for over a week would have your local sanitarian throwing a frenzied shit-fit also.

Pepperpot is not much more than a meat/offal stew with the one notable ingredient, cassareep. Cassareep is the juice from the cassava root cooked down with spices long enough to drive off the hydrogen cyanide and turn it into thick, rich, black, syrupy, bitter-sweet, molassesy goodness. A damn little miracle by it's self. You should be able to find it at any Caribbean food store.

My version was simple. I boiled a couple of pig trotters, skimmed off the scum and added cubed beef, allspice, cloves, cinnamon stick, cinnamon leaf (I don't know but they were at the same Caribbean store so why not?), a habanero chile from the garden, thyme, bay leaves, onion, garlic, cassareep and quite possibly some other shit. I cooked this until everything was tender and then checked for salt. Since many people shy away from bitter notes some people consider adding a bit of sugar. We had this for dinner over rice.

Nearly all references suggest that the flavor will improve over a period of days as long as you don't refrigerate it. There are stories about pots being kept going for over 100 years with new additions of meat and other ingredients being added to the dregs from the previous days. There appear to be two theories on preserving this. One is to add cassareep every day to restore its preservation ability. The other is to just bring it to a boil every day. Since I couldn't imagine that it would taste all that good with multiple additions of the stuff, I chose to bring it to a boil each day. The exception to this "boil a day" routine came on day four when I brewed beer and forgot to boil the pot. Not only did it NOT get reboiled for 48 hours, it also sat on the stove with gallons and gallons of boiling water and wort for 6 or so of those hours. Instead of the 70+ degrees it normally spent it's down time at, it probably was closer to 100+ degrees for that time period. Still the experiment continued.

Day one it tasted pretty good but I think I peaked in flavor by day three. I forgot about it on day four but, admittedly a bit reluctantly, tasted it again on day five. At this point it still tasted good but the texture of the meat was beginning to suffer and the meat was also beginning to taste cooked-out rather than rich and flavorful. I let the stuff sit for a few more days, still boiling it, while contemplating whether or not to eat the last serving. Day eight came and I decided to not be a pussy so I heated it again and ate it. It didn't taste spoiled but it didn't taste all that good either.

I'm happy to report that I suffered no ill effects at all from this experiment. I recommend that you not only seek out cassareep and make your own version of this but that you leave it out and eat it on day three. Without adding fresh meats and rebuilding it, there is no sense in storing it longer than that.

Oh, and by the way, the leftovers you brought home from the restaurant last week are fine to eat as is the pot of soup you forgot to put in the fridge last night. Oh, and so is the block of cheese that you left out the day before yesterday. And while were at it, the pork roast that's still a little pink in the middle? It's fine also. Relax people. Rant over.