Guest Blog Written by Tim Watson; Southern California-based Author, Motorcycle Rider, Farmer & Self-Proclaimed Lunatic (who also happens to be married to Anne Watson). Instagram/Twitter: @spero56
After many years of searching I believe I have finally discovered the perfect way to spend an evening dining with friends.
It doesn’t require much but there are a few basic things you’re definitely going to need. First off you’ve got to have a couple of heavy duty pliers, a pile of old newspapers, a huge metal mallet, an industrial-size aluminum boiling pot, and a propane gas canister. On the face of it, this could appear to be the perfect equipment list for your average serial killer, minus the zip ties and the bottles of acid for dissolving the leftover body parts. But trust me, this is all you’re ever going to need for the makings of a truly memorable meal.
Many years ago, in a previous life, I was fortunate enough to travel the globe. Even luckier, I was paid to stay at some of the world’s very best hotels and dine at fine restaurants with unpronounceable names owned by chefs who were so famous they never cooked for anyone anymore. I know I had some exquisite meals that involved the meat of rare and endangered animals, along with copious amounts of foam with perfectly-shaped vegetables presented on platters the size of a small family car. I was living and eating like a king. The problem is that despite all those years of someone else paying the bill I cannot for the life of me remember a single meal that stood out as truly sublime. It was all exceptionally good, I’m sure. And while this may sound churlish, there was something positively anodyne about the entire experience.
Fast-forward a few years to one week ago today here in Southern California. I have a small group of friends that live and breathe good food and are (as you Americans say) kick-ass chefs in the kitchen. I’m absolutely certain that if any of them chose to they could chuck in their day-jobs, go set up their own restaurants, and would make a huge success of it. We get together every few weeks to laugh, rip each other apart, try unusual and potent beverages, and eat what I can only describe as outstanding food.
This time, one of the guys brought a piece of England with him in the form of a Pimm’s Cup. I’m not sure if he was being kind to me being an Englishman but he knocked it out of the park. A proper English Pimm’s is reserved for such mundane things as watching afternoon afternoon cricket matches and is dangerously moorish. You think a couple will tide you over until dinnertime, but when you go to stand up your legs appear to have broken communication with the rest of your body. These Pimm’s Cups were the best I’ve ever tasted and it may be a week later now, but my legs are only just beginning to work in synch with the rest of my body.
A man who bakes his own bread is definitely worth having as a friend. Especially when he brings to our house his latest version of sourdough that you know he has been working on for months. Using a centuries-old starter, perfecting it, tweaking it, and trying to get it just right. These loaves were beautiful just to look at. I felt a pang of guilt for about a two seconds for spoiling something so nice to look at before we tore into them. Meanwhile, in the kitchen our resident baker was busy hand-making one of his piece de resistance – steamed pork buns. Dough & filling made from scratch. Each constructed by hand. Steamed to perfection in chicken broth. You’d have to get on a plane, fly thousands of miles, disembark at Beijing, and take a 30 minute taxi ride to the the Wanfujing food district to find anything remotely as good as these.
A prawn is just a prawn right? Slightly salty and if you’re lucky they have not been farm-reared so they can be sweet and have a texture to them that is not like elastic on an old pair of underpants. But, a freshly-caught Spot Prawn bought that morning from fishermen at Pearson’s Port in Newport Beach, California with homemade remoulade served with a slice of tomato and lettuce leaf was simple, clean and utterly outstanding. At this point I I was prepared to call it a day.
But, then one of the gang took the whole thing to a new level. He and his girlfriend recently took a vacation for the second time to New Orleans with the sole purpose of trying all of the Cajun cooking they could, and we followed their every mouthful via the auspices of social media. Much as though we’d have liked to go with them, we all couldn’t get there together as everyday life got in the way.
But they wanted us to experience what they found N’awlins (New Orleans). So last weekend, in a very generous gesture, via overnight FedEx he flew in five pounds of these mudbugs from the Louisiana Crawfish Company . The crawfish were accompanied by huge quantities of spicy Andouille sausage that arrived straight from Louisiana to his front door in Southern California in a matter of hours. Also for the pot he brought freshly-caught shrimp and several angry and aggressive live Stone Crabs that looked like they wanted to fight everyone, procured at Pearson’s Port in Newport Beach. As a group we are just six people. He had brought enough food to feed the entire neighborhood.
For a couple of hours there was a bag of moving crawfish lying in the back garden while the water in the aluminum pot bubbled fiercely on our patio. When the time was right they and their crustacean colleagues along with the sausage, corn, mushrooms and special spices were dispatched to the pot. And then there was the smell. Sweet, spicy, raw and exciting. It was unlike anything I’ve ever smelt before.
When the time came to eat it was simply a case of laying down the newspaper and literally piling the crawfish, crabs, sausage and vegetables in a huge long line on the table and eating with our hands. With strict instructions to: “Suck the head and pinch the tail,” there was silence for a few minutes as crustacean carnage unfolded.
What did it taste like? I can’t for one moment even start to explain. Flavours and tastes like nothing I’d ever experienced. All of it washed down with local San Diego County beer. There was a lot of talking, laughing and serious concentration on eating one of the finest meals I’ve ever had. It was precisely what eating with friends should be about. Eventually five of us had to give in and call it day – we were full to bursting. But, one lone stalwart had to keep going – checking every crab had been eaten, every crawfish head sucked, and every prawn devoured. We were clearing up around him as he still kept going. Only when we started taking away the empty shells and broken crab legs did he finally reluctantly give up and sit back with a huge grin on his face and a pile of empty shells as big as his head in front of him.
I’ve never been to Louisiana, but if this is what they are eating right now just to pass the time with friends I’m seriously thinking about moving there. I still don’t know what our friend did that night, but with a bit of N’awlins Voodoo for a few hours he brought a little piece of Louisiana directly to our home in Southern California.