Friday, February 02, 2007


I knew that New Orleans had enough of an Asian population to support a decent sized Asian grocery store, but I just didn't know where to look. Well... that's not entirely true. I'm sure if I had tried hard enough, I could have found one. I just didn't have enough of a motivation to go looking for one. But lately, I've had this nagging urge to find some hoisin sauce. I'm not exactly sure why, just wanted to have some in the house.

By happenstance, a coworker informed me of a rather large Asian grocery store around town, so Nathalie and I ventured over to it.

For me, wandering the aisles of any Asian grocery store is like a stroll through memory lane. Some food product will remind me of what I used to eat as a child in Korea, or a bag of ingredients would remind me of something my mother used to make. But at the same time, being in an Asian grocery store is like walking around a curio shop, or a museum of medical oddities, like the Mutter Museum. Each aisle brings to light more exotic and strange foodstuffs that I've never even thought existed, let alone be something considered edible. It's just a fascinating way to spend some time.

But the best find during this outing was the fresh fish section of the grocery store which reminded me of the Pike Place fish market in Seattle, but on a much smaller scale, of course. Piles and piles of freshly caught fish were on display, with several fish mongers selling and preparing fish. I was ecstatic. Finally, I found someplace in this town that sells fresh fish. Not some thawed out corpse caught several weeks ago.

And next to the large glass tanks containing live fish, there was a bin of live crabs, all scampering about and waving their claws in futility. I immediately grabbed a pair of tongs and smacked around a few of them, looking for the healthiest looking ones. Nothing beats steamed crabs, and I started to develop plans for having some freshly steamed crabs when I got home.

But then I got a bit squeamish thinking about having to cook them. I'm sure these crabs won't die immediately upon hitting hot steam. More like I'm going to torture them, and torture myself listening to them clawing at the sides of the pot and letting out crab screams. The lobster scene from "Annie Hall" kept coming to mind.

The more I thought about having to somehow get the nerve to either kill these things or cook them live, the more squeamish I became, until I was the same color as their blue-green shells. I slowly put the tongs back down and walked away from the crab bin, feeling... well, not feeling so good.

Nathalie: You don't want any crabs?

Me: [wimper]

This is why I know if the government reinstitutes the draft and I get picked to go to the Middle East, I'm just going to have to let them know that I'm a big wuss. Sorry sirs, I can't even kill a crab. How the hell do you expect me to kill a person?

Anyway, I got online and looked up various ways to steam/kill crabs without having a nervous breakdown, and I ran into this post about another guys' experience:
[From "http://mzlabs.com/JohnMount/funstuff/crab.html"]
John's "trouble free" steamed crab recipe (which makes a lie of the "you wouldn't eat X if you had to kill it yourself" argument).

Every once in a blue moon I like to entertain. I buy some exotic ingredients and try a new recipe for a few people. Last night's menu was Filipino style Paella (an originally Spanish rice, seafood and meat stew). I took off early (hey- no faculty read this right?) and went to Berkowitz seafood in the strip to get some squid, clams, shrimp and crabs. The squid, clams and shrimp were not a problem (all purchased dead- since I didn't feel like purging clams).

The crabs were a problem. I directed the woman helping me to two of the feistier ones in the tank (probably in better shape than the sluggish ones). We boxed them up and I proceeded to drive home (they made cute little scraping sounds trying to climb out of the box the whole time). Get home dump the crabs out of the box into one sink each and spray them with a little water (I figure even though it is fresh water it might help their gills). I put off cooking the crabs until last (as they need much less cooking time than the chicken, pork, sausage, and rice that goes into the Paella).

Finally it is time to do the crabs. I have them flipped on their backs in separate sinks (I separated the crabs because one was acting aggressive), which makes them look like the face-grabbing monsters from Alien. The cookbook says to kill them by "putting an ice-pick through the central nervous system" which can be gotten at from the bottom of the crab- dead (haha) center between the claws and first legs. I first go after the slower one of the two. I touch correct point of the under-shell with a very thin fillet knife and the legs of the crab convulsively reach up for my hand- just like in Alien. After about seven tries I work up the nerve to hold the crab down with a meat tenderizer and drive the fillet knife through the central nervous system. The crab gives one of those really repulsive dying spasms with means all legs again lunge up at me one last time- but faster. I back off take some breaths and poke at the legs with the knife. The legs move a little but the crab seems to be dead. By this time I really don't have the nerve to do the second, faster, crab. With extreme effort of will I touch the underside of the second crab with the fillet knife- it lunges worse than the other one ever did, the "dead" crab gives an uncoordinated twitch in sympathy and something makes a rattling sound at the front door. I rush the front door knife in one hand heavy mallet in the other only to run into a horrified Nina a shocked Vince, both just arrived.

Most of the meal is ready, everyone has arrived, the steamer is boiling furiously and one crab is already dead- no more fooling around, I have to do the other one. After about 13 attempts I hold the crab down and drive the fillet knife through the magic spot. The crab is really pissed now- either the cookbook lied, or I missed or crabs don't need their "central nervous system" for much. I hit the knife with the mallet (so I don't have to reach near the wriggling legs) which drives it all the way through the crab- piercing the top shell underneath. The vote from the peanut gallery is to forget steaming, boil some water and poach the bastard right in the sink (no one going for the St. Francis medallion tonight). While boiling water I smack the embedded knife a few times with a plastic serving spoon to see what would happen if I tried to remove the knife. The crab legs come up, I panic, smack the knife and shatter the spoon. I have had enough of this so I put the first crab in one layer of the steamer (using another pair of spoons)- it doesn't fit too well but it is in. I pick up the second crab by the knife and place it on the next layer of the steamer. The bottom ("dead") crab keeps sticking an occasional leg out (which I poke back in). The top crab seems somewhat less feisty but now the knife won't come out (it is stuck in the upper shell). I hold the crab down with the mallet and pull- no luck. Finally I lift the grab up and drop it into the stainless steel sink- which dislodged the knife. I scoop the second crab into the top level of the steamer and slam the top down. There is still some wriggling going on- but everything is manageable. I wait and the wriggling stops- okay everybody who should be is dead.

I transfer the steaming baskets to the boiling water. Look back and the steamer lid is trying to crawl away. Lunge to hold it down (ow- steam) finally use the mallet to weigh it down. Leave the kitchen, take some breaths, steamer is still struggling. Nina and Vince and discussing becoming vegetarians- couple of assertive motions with the fillet knife and they fall back in line. Leave the steamer alone for 8 minutes (as directed in the cookbook), split latterly with a heavy cleaver, remove top shell and scoop out the gills and all the icky green stuff.

Trouble free steamed crab.