Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Crabby Birthday!

No, no, not "crappy birthday," but really, "crabby birthday," as in I ate some fantabulous soft-shell crabs last week for my birthday dinner. Alas, the life of the road warrior...spending another birthday on the road, in a strange town, and the only thing to do is have a nice blow-out dinner at Shaw's Crab House in Schaumburg, IL.

Luckily, I was not totally alone, because I had a co-worker with me, and she was more than happy to help me celebrate at Shaw's. I dearly love soft-shell crabs, and am in no way squicked out about eating the entire crab, crunchy bits and all. I like them fried, sauteed, or however you would like to prepare them for not picky.

Soft-shell crabs are crabs that are molting, and losing their hard outershell. The shell doesn't expand as they grow, so they essentially have to grow a new shell and slough off the old one. The molting season traditionally lasts from early May to late July or early August. Of course, modern technology has come up with ways to either prolong or force the molt to happen, so the season o' soft-shells is not really a season any more.

Although, according to the Shaw's menu, these were imported from Virginia, at the height of freshness, etc., etc. I believed it, because these babies were beautiful and delicious...fried in a light tempura batter with a squeeze of lemon...they were plump and juicy and I could have cheerfully eaten a dozen, even though two quite filled me up. And, to top off this great meal, the nice folks at Shaw's comped my birthday dessert. We shared a plate of small bite desserts--a mini creme brulee, a mini slice of key lime pie, a mini slice of chocolate cake, and a mini slice of raspberry pie. It was just enough sweet/tart/tangy/sugary goodness that it wasn't overwhelming. We both agreed that miniature desserts are the way to go...just a little bit of something sweet to top off the meal, and not some big ass browniegoldrushtripleoverload sort of thing that you see at some places. Plus, it gives the opportunity to try several things at once, so if you come back and decide to actually go whole hog on dessert, you'll know what you like.

Since I was out of town for the birthday, we decided to continue celebrating (i.e., eating!) the next night at the Weber Grill Restaurant. What is not to love about a restaurant that has a giant red barbecue grill out front? And, the food is cooked on giant, industrial Weber grills! How cool is that?! I saw a blurb on Unwrapped the other night about the Weber Grill Restaurant, and they went behind the scenes and showed the grills and how meat was cooked, etc.

I had a lovely ginger-soy glazed skirt steak that was cooked to medium-rare perfection, and my co-worker had a grilled meatloaf that she pronounced very, very good. Webers are produced somewhere around Chicago, which I did not know, and whoever came up with the idea for a restaurant with the grills needs to be president of the company!

After spending the week in the Schaumburg area, I came home to a nice surprise--The Man showed up with poodles and a smoker! And, inside the smoker was a birthday cake with ladybugs and a poodle on it. The smoker is an electric Brinkmann, which I think will be a good learning tool.

I've dubbed it the "Mary Had a Little Pig" starter kit, and I gave it a whirl on Sunday. I wanted to start slow and small--not throw a whole brontosaurus haunch on there until I felt it out and seen what it could do. Big confession time--for all that I talk about barbecue and my passion for smoked and cured meats, I've never actually, until this past weekend, smoked anything myownself.

So, I got a package of boneless country ribs, and The Man wanted to try a lamb chop...I'm thinking that might not be bad, since the mutton experiment in Kentucky went pretty well. I decide that I'm not going to do anything really fancy--no major marinade, no wild concoction in the water pan--just a simple rub, a little aromatics in the water pan, and some hickory chips.

I opted to go with a spice rub that I gleaned from the second Rachael Ray 30-Minute Meals's the best book of the whole RR oeuvre. she describes it as her interpretation/re-creation of a spice mixture that a friend brought from Israel. I use it on a lot of things, and it goes especially well with chicken. I realize that it's ironic, sacreligious, or somewhat unorthodox to put something called "Israeli" on pork, but I'm not trying to overtly offend anyone. We could call it "Icelandic Spice Rub," for that matter. : )

Israeli Spice Rub

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons (1 1/2 palmfuls) sweet smoked paprika (you know how I love this stuff !)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons (1 1/2 palmfuls) ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon (1/3 palmful) dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon (1/3 palmful) ground coriander
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (medium to hot in spice level)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (1/2 palmful), coarse kosher salt
Combine all ingredients and store in an airtight container. Sprinkle liberally over chicken or other meats before grilling or roasting.

I usually slather up some chicken, either boneless or bone-in, with some olive oil and then rub this stuff on, and toss it on the grill. Most tasty.

Back to the regularly scheduled program...I rubbed some of the spice mix on the lamb and the pork. I cut up an onion and threw it and a handful of peppercorns into the water bath, and put it all out in the smoker.

Smoked everything for about 3 hours...proabably could have gone just a hair less, but everything turned out okay. The pork seemed just a wee bit drier than I would have liked, but the funny thing was, when I ate the leftovers for dinner, after they were in the fridge, they were moister and didn't seem dry at all.

The lamb was not anything that I care to repeat again...smoking it made it waaaay too "lamby," or gamey. I've been trying to work on expanding my lamb base and branching out a little more with it, but that piece did not add to my enjoyment. I promptly passed my share back to The Man.

The best thing was that everytime I opened the back door to let the dogs out or do some work on the deck, the whole house would smell of hickory smoke, and it was like being in a giant bacon locker...and what could possibly be wrong with that?!

I'm going to experiment more on the smoking...want to do a little research on the finer points, because in all my collection of cookbooks and reference materials, I have precious little on smoking, if you can believe it.

Which reminds me...Tessa-Lu and I need to get cracking on making some chocolate-covered idea as revolutionary as Reese's got your bacon in my chocolate! You got your chocolate on my bacon! It's almost lyrical, it is!


LinC said...

Thanks for the spice rub recipe! Sounds like your smoker was a big hit. I've only smoked salmon. A friend brought me a whole side of salmon (a honking big fish!) one time from Seattle. I smoked it in my regular grill by building the fire to one side, soaking the wood chips and throwing them directly on the coals. Salmon went on the other side of the grill. It was kind of a cold-smoke because it took several hours, but it worked and was lovely.

Sounds like you had a pair of fun birthday dinners. I'm not a fan of the soft shelled crunch, but that may be because the one time I ate a soft shelled crab (in NJ), it had put on quite a bit of new shell. Crunchy and creepy. Loved hearing about the Weber grill restaurant. I remember that episode from Unwrapped! (I used to be really addicted to the Food Network.) Happy, happy b-day.

J said...

Happy Birthday! I had my first and only experience with soft shelled crab with you in Delaware. It was tasty. I kept thinking though of this guy we used to work with whose wife was getting her PhD in Biology and her research was on isolating the chemical that made the crabs molt.

H makes a lamb neck stew that literally is the best thing I've ever eaten. If I can figure out the recipe I will send it to you. Oh and he made lamb burgers a few weeks ago with a homemade tsaziki sauce that was heaven. So keep trying it! :)