SICHUAN MALA BUTTER CRAYFISH
DO NOT MISTAKE THE LIKINGS OF LOUISIANA-STYLE CRAYFISH-BOIL TO THIS,
WHICH ONLY SHARES AS MUCH SIMILARITIES AS COFFEE HAS TO A FLAMING LAMBOURGINI
Just a small note for the weekend as you’ll need it. OK, maybe it’s not small. In fact, it’s a huge… epic… cardinally sinful and despicably addictive note that will forever change your summers, and you’ll probably regret it, hate me for it, really hate yourself for it, while being lost in a summer-long trance somewhere in between nuclear pains and unbearable pleasures.
Did you know, that Chinese loves crayfish?
Yeah, in fact, fanatical, is the more appropriate word. So much so that in Beijing, they have an entire street called Gui, a whole freaking parade lined by jam-packed and neon-lighted restaurants that dedicates almost solely to the cult of this practice. Now, do not… and I mean, do not mistake the likings of the southern Louisiana-style boil to this sichuan-style mala (numb and spicy) crayfish bloodbath, which only shares as much similarities as coffee has to a Flaming Lambourgini. Underestimate these mean little fuckers, and you’ll be punished. This is a dish that transcends the crayfishes through a condensed and ferocious red bath made by extracting every last bit of flavour molecules from a intense mixture of spice-blend, aromatics and sichuan fermented chili paste into the thick gravy of lava and glisteningly red butter. Just a couple of bug-crushing and head-sucking into the whole thing, and your every taste-buds and every sensual nerves that link to the pleasure and plain receptors in your brain, will be spanked and whiplashed ecstatically by the unbelievable amount of flavours, happiness really, trafficked to you on high speed with an ill intention. You can’t eat just one. No one can eat just one. Even when every pores on your forehead and dripping sweats is begging, howling for you to show mercy. You just can’t stop. And after the irreversible damages done, you’ll want to robotically mop up the death-gravy with any carbs lying within an arm’s length. There’s just no other ways for this to happen. So think long, and think hard, before taking the plunge.
This summer, are you ready to go down the rabbit hole?
The butter mimics the sichuan mala hot pot base that uses ghee. Relax, you are not drinking the base, just like you won't drink the oil and soup from sichuan hot pot. But if you have butter-phobic, you can substitute with canola oil. If you cannot source live crayfish, you can substitute with shrimps.
- 53 oz (1500 grams) live crayfish
- 3 tbsp (20 grams) Korean chili flakes
- 2 1/2 tbsp (27 grams) white peppercorns
- 2 1/2 tbsp (13 grams) red sichuan peppercorns
- 2~3 (3 grams) star anise
- 4~5 (2 grams) dried bay leaves
- 1 whole black cardamon
- 1 1/2 tsp (5 grams) ground cumin
- 1 tsp (3 grams) ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp (1 grams) fennel seeds, or ground fennel
- 1/4 tsp (1 gram) five spice powder
- 1/4 tsp (1 gram) curry powder
- 1/4 cup + 1 tbsp (80 grams) sichuan douban paste/chili broad bean paste
- 1/4 cup (60 grams) Chinese rice wine, or Japanese sake
- 7 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2~3 (68 grams) large scallions, cut in chunks
- 1 1/2 tbsp (27 grams) diced ginger
- 4 tsp light brown sugar
- 2 sticks (226 grams) unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp (27 grams) canola oil
- 1~2 cups (25~50 grams) whole dried chilis, depending on your heat tolerance
- 10 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
- 1/2 cup (115 grams) Chinese cooking rice wine, or Japanese sake
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 1/2 cups (690 grams) chicken stock
- 1 tsp granulated chicken bouillon
- MAKE THE SICHUAN MALA BUTTER BASE: Preferably, make the base the day before or at least several hours ahead, for the flavours to weld. In a blender or spice-grinder, blend everything under "SPICE BLEND" until finely powderized. Set aside. In the same blender, blend everything under "PASTE BLEND" until finely pureed. Set aside.
- In a deep, large pot (enough to hold all the crayfish), melt unsalted butter and canola oil over medium heat. Add the pureed "PASTE BLEND" and whole dried chilis, then turn the heat down to medium-low, stirring frequently to prevent burning and cook for 10 min until all the moisture has evaporated and very fragrant. Now add the "SPICE BLEND", smashed garlic and rice wine, and cook for another 3 mins until the wine has mostly evaporated. Now add the soy sauce and cook for another min, before adding the chicken stock and chicken bouillon. Simmer the mixture for 2 min, then turn off the heat. The mixture would taste salty, as it should be. Let the base sit overnight (room-temperature worked fine with me, but you can leave it in the fridge just in case), or at least for 6 hours before using.
- TO PREP THE CRAYFISHES: Crayfishes can be quite dirty, depending on where you source them. I like to hold each crayfish on its back with my thumb and index finger (so its claws cannot reach me), and use a toothbrush to gently brush/clean their chests, underbelly and around the claws to eliminate any impurities. Then, to cook them, you have 3 options. 1) Boil them alive. 2) Freeze them for 40 min to put them into a "coma" before boiling them, which never works and is probably just additional sufferings. 3) Takes a lot more work but in my opinion, the most humane way to go about it, which is to hold each crayfish inverted with a tongs, then insert a shape knife into the chest cavity then press down all the way to the tip of its head (*without splitting its head entirely*). This will kill it instantly, and any movements are just nerve reflexes. Your choice.
- TO COOK AND SERVE: Bring the base back to a simmer on medium-high heat, then add the crayfishes. Stir briefly, then put the lid on and cook for 5 min, stirring once again in between. All the crayfishes should have turned red at this point. Then turn the heat off, and let sit with the lid on for 15 ~20 min. This finishes the cooking, as well as letting the crayfishes absorb the flavours from the base. Transfer to a shallow serving dish and serve immediately with cold beers or any fire-extinguishing drinks that you prefer (you'll need it). I like to soak up the sauces with thin pasta (like fedelini), but you can use any rice or breads you have on hand.
Please please do not omit any ingredients. There are many different brands of sichuan douban/chili broad bean paste, but the link included is the exact brand that I used.