Red and black soup, the plus and minus of valentines! The red is for the pleasure those with have and the black is dedicated to those who suffer the pain of singledon. I am not a supporter of the holiday, and it’s not because I’m not single, it’s because I truly believe it is stupid to relegate my love to specific day when I could use any arbitrary day at any number of arbitrary times of the year to show how I really feel toward anyone important in my life. Alas, that isn’t happening right now because I am not seeing anyone at the moment, but it got me to thinking, if I was, what kind of dishes I might make around the theme, which then resulted in coming up with this idea.
The basis for the red portion of the dish comes from the tomato, red bell peppers and the prawns. Canned tomato will work fine, I used fresh that were very, very ripe. The more tomatoes the better as they are the foundation of the dish. The crayfish can be found live which is how I describe the recipe, but you can get then pre-cooked frozen whole or just the tails, all can work. Shrimp can be substituted but remember, they tend to be a little more orange than red so it throws off some of the color. If you do go with shrimp same thing applies as with the crayfish and as for size, go small, you don’t want to be struggling with jumbo on your spoon.
The basis for the black portion comes from the whole pepper corns, black beans and the principle of the blackening seasoning. The whole pepper corns aren’t something most people are used to cooking with, but once they boil for a time they soften up. Since I didn’t include chilis in the soup it provides a bit of the spicy pop to the dish, and a pop it is when you bit down on the boiled ones (they aren’t hard and cruchy like when they are dried!). The black beans can be the dried kind or canned. Remember with dried to sort them (remove any foreign matter) and soak them properly before using them. With the canned ones make sure you rinse them thoroughly. The basic blackening seasoning idea I used is a combination of onion powder, garlic powder, ground black pepper, ground white pepper, paprika, cumin, crushed dried rosemary and ground cayenne.
The roux is the base for the dish. It can be anything from a light blond to a deep red brick and work. Just remember the darker the roux the less thickening power it has, but also the more flavor it imparts. I like mine dark for something like this so it really sets the tone. The other important part of the dish is the stock, which i make homemade as part of the overall process, meaning little really goes to waste in the creation of the soup. The stock doesn’t need a long boil an hour would do just fine. Use enough stock to represent the amount of liquid you want to end with and then increase the volume by about 1/3. Remember the viscosity of the dish will change as the roux thickens the stock and as the stock is reduced during cooking, so select an amount that will approximate how thick you anticipate the soup at the end. Truthfully, I eyeball this, I don’t actually have a ratio that works. The proportion of beans to crayfish should be about equal.
red bell pepper
whole pepper corns
stock pot with steamer
Put some whole pepper corns and bay leafs in the steamer water and bring to a boil.
Place the crayfish in the steamer, dust with the blackening seasoning, place the steamer over the boiling water and cover.
Allow the crayfish to steam until the change to a bright red color, remove from the boiling water and let cool.
Roughly chop the onion, garlic, bell pepper and celery.
Retain the unused portions of the veggies for the stock.
Once cool, clean the crayfish by removing the tail from the body and then carefully removing the meat from the tail and set the meat aside.
Take the crayfish bodies and unused portions of the veggies and place them in the pot of boiling water that you steamed the crayfish over and all that to simmer.
In the other stock pot combine equal parts of oil and flour by weight and begin the roux over low heat.
Allow the roux to come to the darkness you want making to constantly mix it so that it doesn’t burn.
As the roux comes close to the color you want move it to one side of the stock pot and add the onion, garlic, celery and bell peppers to the other side of the pot and allow them to sweat.
The idea is to allow the veggies to completely soften and their flavors to meld so let it go slow while you continue to work the roux.
Once the veggies and roux are about where you want them combine the two and add the tomatoes and season with the blackening seasoning.
The liquid from the tomato and the sweating of the other veggies should begin to dethicken the roux, be careful still to not let the roux burn.
Remove the stock from the heat and strain it in a fine mesh colender to remove the crayfish shells and discarded veggies.
If desired strain it through cheese cloth to remove any additional particulate from the stock, although this is not 100% necessary.
Add the stock to the roux and veggies slowly, mixing as you do to ensure the roux integrates with the stock.
Reseason with the blackening seasoning.
Add some whole black pepper corns and the bay leaves to the stock and veggie mixture.
Bring to a boil and then back down to a low simmer.
Allow the mixture to simmer uncovered until the liquid is reduced by about one third.
Reseason as necessary with the blackening seasoning.
Add a half a 6oz can of tomato paste for each 4 qts of liquid you started with and stir it in.
Add the fresh rosemary, the black beans and the crayfish and carefully stir.
Allow to simmer for a couple of minutes to allow the rosemary flavor to integrate and the beans and crayfish to come up to temperature.
When you serve it, a nice hard cheese grated over the top will add to the flavors, such as a pecorino romano, parmigiano reggiano but I prefer asiago veneto because of the way it integrates. I like some fresh ground black pepper along with the grated cheese to keep the color pallet and then, if you want to kick up the heat a little bit, splash some hot sauce over the top of the cheese and cracked pepper, something like crystal with its balanced flavor, viscosity and bold red color.
If you are looking for sides to serve with the dish, I suggest doing something like red and black grits. The short simple version of it would be homily grits made with red bell peppers and blackened andoule or other sausage