Article and Recipe contributed by Chef Randy King.
The water was distorting my vision, making the 6 inch crawfish look much larger and much more intimidating as it backed itself into a rocky corner – lifting his pinchers menacingly. Slowly I reached in behind his pinchers and grabbed the river-lobster from the depths, stuffing it into sack tied to my hip. I flipped a few more round river rocks and felt my breath getting short. I shot to the top of the water, exhaling water out my snorkel, and stood in the Boise River.
From my right, in the main current, I heard a frat boy inspired “What ya doin’?”
“Grocery shopping” I replied, thrusting out the crawfish in my hand and patting the sack full tied to my waist. Some in the group chuckled, some smiled, and some nodded in approval.
I peeled off the snorkel mask and basked in the July sun and heat of the Treasure Valley. I watched group after group float by, the Boise River is a popular rafting/floating location in Idaho, not knowing about the forgotten feast that exists below their feet and all around them.Â But that is my life – finding the odd food that most don’t think about let alone eat.
My obsession with weird food started in childhood. I vividly remember filling a pillowcase with fresh water mussels in a creek near New Meadows Idaho. I crawled over rocks and into sand banks plucking them for hours. With great effort I proudly toted them back to camp. Then I fed them – with the help of my father, garlic and butter – to my family. The smiles around camp fed my soul. They created an addict.
That addict eventually became a Chef. That Chef eventually found a calling in the wild food he loved as a child. So now I am often looking for less sought after forms of food. But as a society we often mistake easy for good. We have, honestly, evolved past needing to hunt and forage our own food. Supermarkets burst at the seams with things our ancestors never knew existed but now we cannot live without. But the original supermarket, the Paleo-Mart as it were, is still all around us.
Rockchucks are great slow cooked in duck fat and garlic. Red fox tree squirrels make a great cacciatori. Rattlesnakes make great stir-fry with a sweet lime and garlic sauce. Grass carp are great smoked over apple wood from the hills around Marsing. Jackrabbit braised with white wine and mustard is a personal favorite and a French classic. The variety of wild meat options makes for an incredibly diverse dinner table. Too often we can get stuck in the routine of pork-chicken-beef with dinner.
I also look to the history of my own culinary profession for inspiration, in that realm one chef’s toque stands tallest – Escoffier. He is the father of western cooking and ate some seriously interesting stuff. His cookbooks laud the qualities of the odd bits in the culinary world.Â As a chef, I yearn for that historical connection with food, to get closer to the founder of my cuisine (I think anyone in the food field should have that drive).
Want giant snails for French inspired escargot? Yep, I have a spot near Middleton Idaho. Turtle soup, another Escoffier classic, can be made with any invasive turtle in Idaho. Frog legs, I have an annual frog leg fry since bullfrogs are invasive and are displacing native frog and toad populations. The foundation of western cuisine is not pork-beef-chicken, it is an assortment of game and odd ball creatures. I do my best to honor that heritage.
Additionally, as a grown ass man it is just kind of fun to play in the muck and the water. For me, hip waders and knee deep mud make for an awesome way to spend an evening with my sons. I like to keep the sense of adventure and wonder that can be lost with age. Basically, I just want to be a kid crawling over rocks looking for fresh water mussels to feed my family again.
Watercress and Crawfish Salad
- 30-ish Crawfish
- 1 each lemon, quartered
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 2 quarts water
- ½ gallon ice water
Bring water and lemon to a boil in 1 gallon stock pot. Add the salt when the water is boiling. Slide a knife between the eyes of all the crawfish, killing them. Add crawfish to boiling water in stages – about 1/3 at a time. This will keep the cooking water hot. Cook crayfish for about 4 minutes, unless they are very small then only about 3. They will be bright red when cooked.
When cooked add the crawfish to ice water. Let chill completely, but do not let stay in the water for more than a ½ hour. They will get water logged and soft.
Crack and peel the tail meat (just like a shrimp tail). Reserve the large claws for garnish.
Serves 4 as salad, 2 as entree
Prep Time – 30 minutes
Red wine vinaigrette
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed and minced
- Pinch of salt
- Fresh cracked pepper
Add all ingredients to the bottom of a large salad bowl. Whisk together. This will not be a solid emulsification, and that is ok.
- 2 cups gently packed watercress
- ½ cup Italian parsley leaves
- 15 each chive flowers (optional, otherwise use chive sticks about 2 inches long)
- 1 Fuji apple, cut into match sticks
- Crawfish tail meat (see above)
Add all the salad greens, apple and crawfish tail meat to the bowl you made the vinaigrette. Toss to fully coat. Serve on four plates as a great starter course. Garnish each plate with the crawfish claws.
This recipe and many more can be found in Chef Randy King’s new book “Chef in the Wild” Click Here to order your copy today.