Spicy Velvet Crab and Langoustine Boil
Exploration, history, the spice trade and Cajuns all in one dish from Rennes
Part of being a Franco-American couple is sharing culinary backgrounds. Add Brittany to the mix and the possibilities become endless. This Crab and Langoustine Boil is straight from Louisiana via our Marché des Lices.
So, what’s the Louisiana link to our Breton Market?
As with all things Breton it goes back centuries. The Breton explorer Jacques Cartier left from St. Malo and founded Quebec in 1534 for the French King. Many Bretons and Normans followed him in the years to come and became known as Acadians. In 1763, the French were defeated by the British in Quebec. The Arcadians were kicked off their land. Thus began the “Grand Dérangement”, the diaspora of the New French. They travelled all over the world, some went west as trappers, some went to Virginia and New England, others tried to return to France via Brittany. Louis the XVth refused them entry, and they settled on the island of Belle-Île off the Breton coast. Most headed to Louisiana. They were poor fishermen and farmers. And spoke their Arcadian dialect : Cajun.
The descendants of Cartier’s settlers were sent to drain the mosquito and alligator invested swamps of the Bayou. They fished for crabs, crawfish, oysters and made andouille, which you find all over Brittany today. They met with creoles, runaway slaves, native Americans, Spaniards, … each brought new tastes and savors adding to old French techniques.
The big city, New Orleans, had long been a port that traded with Nantes, Saint Malo and Lorient. There are 18th century records of the finest of St. Malo’s merchant ships plying the Indian Malabar Coast in search of spices and serving all the great cities of France and the New World.
So every dish has its origins and history. The spices in a crab boil span the world and centuries.
Marche des LIces Louisiana Velvet Crab and Langoustine Boil
Preparation :10 minutes
Cooking: 17 minutes
This is a simple as it gets. Boil water, add spices, add crabs and done!
It's so simple we decided to serve it like in St. Bernard’s Parrish, on newspaper with some hot sauce and dipping juice on the side. This dish works with almost any shellfish. On Europe's Atlantic Coast, we have Velvet Crabs and Langoustines. You can use Maryland blue crabs and shrimp in the USA. Japanese Blues and Hairy Crabs in Asia...
Your crabs must be lively. Be careful; these guys will nip you pretty hard. If they are not feisty they might not be fresh so choose wisely. The same goes for your langoustines, they should be moving around. Once you buy them, cook them within a few hours. These carbs might be fierce but once out of water and they're delicate.
If you use shrimp, try to get the head-on kind. They really add a lot of flavor to the broth and sucking the guts out of shrimp heads is “de rigeur” with your newspaper table cloth. You can find fresh and frozen head-on shrimp in many Asian markets. Some fishmongers have them, too.
- 2 lbs (1 kilo) Crabs – Velvet, Blues, Hairy,...
- 2 lbs (1 kilo) Langoustines – or Head-on Shrimp
- 1/3 cup sea salt (50 grams)
- 1/3 cup black pepper corns (50 grams)
- 3-4 dried Espellete peppers or Mexican Ancho Chiles
- 12 cloves
- 1 heaping teaspoon of smoked paprika- (7 grams)
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (2.5 grams)
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg (2.5 grams)
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger (5 grams)
- 5-6 garlic cloves
- 6-7 bay leaves
- Few sprigs of fresh thyme – or 1 heaping teaspoon dried thyme (7 grams)
- Boil 6 quarts to water (5.5 liters)
- Make your spice mix. Take ALL your salt, peppers, spices, even the ones already ground - with the exception of bayleaf and thyme and grind to a fine powder in a spice grinder. If you don’t have a grinder use equal amounts of ground spices and mix (We grind our spices. A simple coffee grinder does the job ($16). It will go a long way. Really, it makes a huge difference in your cooking. Best cheap investment you’ll make in your kitchen)
- Throw in your spice mix with bayleaf, crushed garlic cloves and sprigs of thyme into the water. This is called a court-bouillon.
- Boil the court-bouillon for 10 minutes
- Throw crabs in the pot for 5 minutes
- After 5 minutes throw in langoustines or shrimp for 2 minutes with your crabs - really 2 minutes!!!
- Strain the crabs and langoustines
- Serve in a big communal bowl with some hot sauce and bowls of the spicy broth for dipping on the side.
Crack open your crabs and eat like any of their bigger cousins. These guys are super sweet and are worth the work. Sip your wine or beer, scoop out the crabs insides and spread on some good bread with a little hot sauce and a spoon of broth. Don't worry about getting messy, That is what this is about.
Marc’s Wine pairing – Domaine de l’Ecu – Gniess
A good cold beer will do fine for sure. But, being on the Atlantic coast calls for an Atlantic wine – Muscadet.
From the area around the city of Nantes, muscadet is known in France for being simple and cheap. Made from Melon de Bourgogne grapes, the wine is often served ice cold with oysters and mussels by the seashore. Not shabby, still these wines aren’t known for their fine dinning potential – which is of course a shame.
Today’s wine can be found at le Bernadin in NY, Noma in Denmark and Astrance in Paris, all have three stars!!!
This wine comes from a town called La Bretonnerie, not making that up. The vintners Guy and Fred Bossard have been producing organic wines since 1975, way before it was fashionable. They make a range of wines from different parcels, each with its unique character. The name of this cuvé, “Gneiss” comes from a rock filled with quartz and mica that is found in the soil. The nose is delicate; fresh fruits and citrus, with hints of jasmine. The wine isn’t a lightweight though. It goes well with the Crab boil, cooling down its spicy heat with a fuller mid-plate held up by ia strong mineral backbone. It finishes with bitter almond and lemon notes, always nice with seafood.
The price isn’t three star, however - only about 10 euros.