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Louisiana Seafood Boil

A great backyard party, a real Louisiana seafood boil requires a 50-gallon pot on top of a propane burner. This stovetop version turns out a smaller feast, but the flavors are the same. Once you’ve mastered the basics, as described below, it’s time to release your inner Emeril. Exuberant cooks throw extra goodies into the pot to soak up the spicy brew (try sausage links, whole artichokes or mushrooms). Spread out some newspapers and the table is set. Saltines and cocktail sauce are optional. Cold beer is essential.

Much of the flavor for a seafood boil comes from an aromatic blend of seasonings known locally as crab boil. If you can’t find one of the commercial dry mixes such as Zatarain’s or Rex at your grocery store, this recipe is a good substitute: In a bowl, mix together 12 whole cloves, 1/4 cup each coriander seeds and mustard seeds, 3 Tbs. dill seeds, 1 Tbs. each celery seeds and red pepper flakes, 2 Tbs. whole allspice, 2 tsp. black peppercorns and 6 bay leaves, crumbled. Place the mixture on a double-thick square of cheesecloth, gather the corners together and tie securely with kitchen string. Makes enough to season 5 lb. shrimp or 12 blue crabs.

Ingredients:

  • 8 quarts water
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 6 yellow onions, unpeeled
  • 4 celery stalks, halved crosswise
  • 2 lemons, unpeeled and quartered
  • 12 garlic cloves
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 2-inch piece fresh ginger, thickly sliced
  • Crab boil spice mix (see above) or 6 oz. packaged whole-spice crab boil
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup sea salt, or to taste
  • 1 Tbs. cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • 1 Tbs. black peppercorns, or to taste
  • 2 to 3 lb. small red-skinned potatoes, unpeeled
  • 24 live blue crabs or 4 to 6 small live Dungeness crabs
  • 6 ears of corn, husked and halved crosswise
  • 5 lb. large shrimp, with heads attached

Directions:

Pour the water into a large stockpot. Add the oil, onions, celery, lemons, garlic, bay leaves, ginger, crab boil spice mix, salt, cayenne and black peppercorns and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil for 10 minutes.

Add the potatoes and boil for 5 minutes. Add the crabs and boil for 15 minutes. Add the corn and boil for 5 minutes.

Add the shrimp and boil for 1 minute. Turn off the heat and let the mixture stand for 5 minutes.

Using tongs or a skimmer, retrieve the seafood and vegetables from the pot and serve them warm atop several thicknesses of newspaper or large sheets of parchment paper, or transfer to a large serving platter. The seafood can also be served at room temperature or chilled. Use a nutcracker or a table knife to crack the shells. Serves 8 to 12.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Foods of the World Series, New Orleans, by Constance Snow (Oxmoor House, 2005).