Remedy for crustacean frustration in Korea
Everyone misses certain foods from back home when they’ve been away for a while. Me, I tend to miss the food from the places I visited while I was away from home.
That's one reason I love Seoul. It has so many foods I miss from the places I've been. I've been wanting for the flavors of one special place that has provided me with so many of my favorite gastronomic experiences. Thinking back, I recall the ecstasy of the crawfish Étouffée at Commander's Palace and the crunchy, sweet meatiness of the fried soft-shell crabs out by the river near Jean Lafitte in Jefferson Parish. I fondly remember helping to heft an enormous burlap sack of writhing crawfish into a purging basin as I learned how to do a proper crawfish boil in the back of a friend’s house that looked out onto the bayou.
I'm talking about the food of New Orleans, Louisiana. After regular exposure to such fare, not eating it for an extended period can result in a serious nervo-gastric condition called crustacean frustration. Luckily, The Boiling Crab has a remedy.
Down 'bouts N’awlins they boil up all manner of goodness in giant pots and kettles. Before your eyes, any sort of crustacean might be bubbled into a spicy mix of deliciousness. It’s best to not even differentiate between sides and mains; it’s all cooked in the same pot and served together, dumped onto newspaper in the middle of the table.
At The Boiling Crab, they do about as well as it gets outside Louisiana. Truth be told, when we first walked up and saw the sign – “Louisiana Style Cajun” – we scoffed. How is anyone going to serve a proper crab boil (which takes hours to prepare) to the hurry-up diners of Seoul? It didn’t get much better when we saw a couple of girls wearing disposable gloves and lobster bibs trying not to muss their makeup at the next table. “Amateurs,” we thought. When paper was rolled out over our table we began to reconsider. Bibs were offered but we turned them down. We had come appropriately dressed, in clothes we didn’t mind dirtying.
The Boiling Crab has a number of options for your boil including combos and individual items. The three combos (recommended) include Korean blue crab, shrimp and snow crab. Along with your main you will find mussels, clams, scallops, corn, potatoes and sausage. There’s also a decent selection of fried items, which is a must if you really want to taste the South. We opted for the shrimp combo and the fried soft-shell crabs, ordered our drinks and settled down for the wait.
In the meantime, a bucket for shells and cobs was brought to the table along with my San Miguel. The wait for the boil wasn’t quick, but I wouldn’t call it slow. It told me things were being prepared fresh; seasoning wasn’t just being drizzled over the top of quick-made food.
Finally, our meal emerged: spicy boiled goodness, neatly contained in an oven-safe bag. They cut the bag open and dumped the normal mess out. We found cooking the seafood in a bag helped speed up the cooking process, and allowed flavors to mingle and penetrate more thoroughly in less time. From experience, we could tell that some things had been pre-boiled, like the potatoes. This was part of the time-saving solution they came up with to actually boil your meal while you wait. They were still good. The sausage was not andouille, but good quality. We could also tell that beer had not been used in the boil preparation, and asked, just to be certain. Both are nice to have, but not totally necessary.
The important stuff – the seafood – was tender and full of flavor. You can choose the spiciness of your dish on a scale of one to three. We chose two, which was just right. Especially notable was the use of garlic. In a normal boil, whole cloves of garlic are tossed in, then eaten later. Here the garlic had been chopped – showing more care than we expected – and it was terrific. The savory warmth was delicious. Although not authentic, this is an improvement that made up for the other shortcomings.
In all, it was thoroughly satisfying and enjoyably messy. Oh, and that soft-shell crab? It was exactly the hot, sweet, crunchy meatiness I had been longing for. Frustration ended, remedy enjoyed.
The Boiling Crab is located in Itaewon, in the alleyway behind McDonald’s. Leave Itaewon Station, Exit 4, and find your way south to the alleyway, which runs parallel to the main street. Head west, toward Noksapyeong Station. It’s opposite Homebase. It’s closed on Tuesdays.
Find more information at www.boilingcrabshrimp.com.