Mudbugs and the Billy Bookcase. Swedish Crayfish at IKEA. Burbank, CA.
Lately, it appears that the vogue and righteous thing to do as a human being who eats is to know from where one's food originates, how it gets to the table and all the minutiae concerning one's meal.
We just have to know absolutely EVERYTHING like a nosey mother rifling through her son’s closet and personal journals digging up dirt on him, trying to figure out who he is and what he’s about. They’re so close yet so far. He’s her son but he’s also a pubescent puzzle. Mom, if you don’t know me by now, well, it’s just too late. And you never hugged me enough.
Sorry about the flashback.
Onward foodie soldiers! This is a gastronomic movement where we attempt to vanquish the childish beliefs that meat comes delivered in snugly sealed cellophane or friendly neighborhood butcher paper or the omnipresent and brightly tinted wrapper of a Dow Jones Industrial diner. This is without a doubt a move in the right direction but, really though, how much do we want to know about our food and where it comes from?
You have lots of questions like: Under what conditions did the animal live? What did the animal eat? How was the animal slaughtered? Did he have a spider friend named Charlotte who spun words on her web? These are good, conscientious things to know about your food, but do you need to know the animal’s name, if it was happy, or if its processing went horribly awry ending up in a terrifying and torturous death? At a certain point, the information you accumulate about your hot dog might make you feel like you’re eating your pet dog. Is there such a thing as knowing too much about where your food is from? Maybe. At best, you lose your appetite for a moment; at the extreme, you quit your day job and become an animal rights commando and tattoo the phrase “Meat Jihad” on your forehead.
This food origin zeitgeist doesn’t end with land animals but permeates all the way down to the tiniest pea in the tiniest pod. We absolutely have to know a pea plant’s heritage. Were the parents sweet or bland? What about its terroir? Was home a quiet neighborhood with rich, healthy soil and plenty of sunshine and just enough water or was it an agribusiness site vexed with dead dirt and downstream from an Escherichia coli farm. Just throw your hands in the air and wave ‘em like you totally care because “Locals only!” is the chant for now.
But you know just as well as I do that there are certain foods, like people, you don’t want too much information about, you know what I’m saying? When that “too much info” line is much too easy to cross. Crayfish is one of those foods. And, of course, I’m about to cross that line like ten lords-a-leaping.
Crayfish are found in freshwaters all around the world. By nature, however, they love the slushiest and muckiest part of the freshwater, hence their nickname “mudbugs”. Sure, they’re found in thick, silky, slabs of river mud but much of the time these tiny scavengers can be found peeking out of carrion, between nibbles of decomposing flesh. Crayfish are not particularly finicky eaters either. They’ll devour plants, worms, snails, fish, rats or even you. Still want to know where your food comes from or, worse yet, what its last meal was?
Most crayfish end up in eateries in Louisiana, but a random few find their way to IKEA. Yes, IKEA.
If you don’t already know, IKEA is a famous Swedish retailer that sells flat-packed furniture at affordable prices. This place is also renown for its cafeteria. Much like the furniture they sell, the food IKEA serves up is fun, quirky, generally good and cheap. IKEA cafeteria’s star plate is the Swedish meatball. It’s nicely done, maybe a little too much filler but basically tasty. I normally don’t care much for the most popular kid in school. I’m more interested in the weirdo sitting in the back of the classroom with jet-black hair covering half her face busily scrawling something rageful on her Pee Chee. This is the why I chose the bowl of 7 crayfish over the meatballs platter. It’s the total weirdo in the IKEA cafeteria.
Finding crayfish in a Swedish furniture store was like finding Sarah Palin behind the wheel of a Prius. Highly unlikely and weird I felt. But in fact eating crayfish in Sweden is almost as popular as eating crayfish in Louisiana. The difference is how they cook up these mudbugs. Like the people in Sweden, mildness is preferred over fiery when it comes to preparing crayfish. A simple brine and crown dill are basically what one needs to cook Swedish style crayfish. Also contrary to its Louisiana cousin, they’re served chilled rather than freshly boiled.
Though small, Swedish style crayfish are saturated with great flavors. I’d suggest eating them in the privacy of your own home because to really chow down you need to get your ugly on. First, you lick the shell. Not like a Tootsie Pop. LICK IT LIKE YOU MEAN IT! Like it’s your Last Tango in Paris. Yes, lick it all, up and down, all the way to Chinatown. Taste the brine, the dill. That’s the dilly.
Eat! It's all in the twist!
Next, do the twist. Separate the head from the tail. Firmly hold the head and gently twist the tail until there’s some separation and then pull apart. If done right, you should have pulled out all the flesh from the head.
Now, make like a Dyson and suck the head of all its contents especially the hepatopancreas. Yes, it is a mouthful but the hepatopancreas is what makes eating crayfish worthwhile. Commonly known as tomalley, this liver and pancreas hybrid is sweet, briny, bitter and pungent. And as with anything decadent and delish, it’s bad for you since the tomalley is a filter organ and contains toxins as well as chemicals. Screw it and just eat. Tomorrow you might get hit by a car.
Finally, peel the shell off the tail meat and eat. About the size of an average shrimp but with the flavor of a lobster, this was a hard gotten morsel, so love it. Sauce is unnecessary since all the briny and dilly flavors are cooked into the mini monster.
The Swedes throw entire parties around their beloved kräftor (Swedish for crayfish). That's how much they love these creatures. In fact, these arthropods are perfect to party with because they’re easy to cook up in mass quantities, and they take some effort to eat which leads to conversation. The Swedes serve them up with strong flavored cheeses, stronger booze and ABBA mp3s. Mamma Mia, that’s the Swede life!
Who would’ve thought mudbugs and the Billy bookcase would go so beautifully together.
600 N. San Fernando Blvd.
Burbank, CA 91502