With the Super Bowl right around the corner, and Mardi Gras following close behind this year, it’s the perfect season to serve up a “Crawfish Boil” here in North Texas, according to Fort Worth Chef John Bonnell, one of several Celebrity Presenters at Zest Fest 2013, held this weekend in Irving. Bonnell took to the demonstration stage Friday, Saturday and today as one of the headliner attractions at the event, attended by upwards of 10,000 people during its third annual visit to the Irving Convention Center.
Following a three-day competition last week, winners of the coveted Golden Chile Awards were announced at a Jan. 25 dinner, allowing the show’s weekend attendees to sample and purchase products judged to be winners in a number of different categories. The exhibit floor featured 138 different vendors, and making one’s way through the hall was a continuing feast of taste treats, all offered free of charge to attendees.
The sampling was not confined to the exhibition floor, however. Ribs were grilled with different rubs and sauces and offered throughout the day; there were samplings as part of the People’s Preference Awards; and there was an Atomic Wing Eating Challenge. And celebrity chefs made enough for viewers to taste as well.
The personable Bonnell, who operates a Fort Worth restaurant bearing his name, publicly confirmed that he is opening a new restaurant March 29; It will be named Waters, and will again highlight his brand of “down-home fine dining,” but will feature fish and seafood, all fresh and sustainably caught, he noted.
New restaurant slated this spring
“One of the best things I like about a crawfish boil,” he said, “is that it’s a very social way to eat.” The preparation is simple, as well, he said, adding that the large pot with a lift-out interior steaming basket is widely available and not expensive. “But it’s a must,” he said, for a proper seafood boil.
The ingredients are few: Crawfish, which are just coming into season now, will be available and delicious for the next few months, until after Easter. His advice: Make sure they’re alive and then soak them in cold saltwater for a period of 3-4 hours to “purge” them.
Additional ingredients in Bonnell’s Boil are: Corn on the cob, broken into smaller chunks; hunks of Andouille sausage; small yellow fingerling potatoes, whole; and shrimp. Then, importantly, there are the seasonings – onions, garlic, hot sauce and the seasonings. Also, four or five lemons for each batch.
Then, jokingly, he proclaimed that the most important ingredient was beer – which he proceeded to drink rather than adding it to the pot.
During the 30-minute presentation, Bonnell kept up a running banter with the audience, answering questions and frequently checking his steaming pot of goodness. He stressed that “the key to a good crawfish boil is adding all the ingredients at the right time.” Potatoes go in first, he noted; then the corn, and the seasonings. The crawfish take longer to cook than the shrimp, he said, so you should “get them boiling real good.”
During the presentation, he spoke about spice and zest, noting that flavor, and the right amount of seasoning, is important in preparing food that tastes good. You could just boil the crawfish in salted water, he said, adding that that would not be very interesting.
Don't go easy on the seasoning
His demonstration proves that he does not go easy on the seasonings and spices, making some of the audience cringe as he poured in the hot sauce, but the finished product prompted only exclamations of approval from the crowd.
Bonnell has authored several cookbooks and also offers a line of prepared mixed seasonings and dry rubs. He is presently working on a new book featuring “coastal cuisine,” and said it should be available by the spring of 2014.
Bonnell’s Texas Red Dog Rub is available in three flavors, he noted, Creole, Southwest and Barbecue. Creole is not hot, and is suitable for children, he said. He laughed about the Southwest style, however, saying, “Maybe you just sweat a little bit extra when you’re eating that one.” If you don’t use such rubs a lot, he noted, it is convenient to buy his pre-measured versions.
He emphasized, however, that he has no secrets, and if you’d rather mix your own, Bonnell promised to share ingredients and proportions with anyone who asks. Just write to me, he said. “I have no secrets, and I’ll give any recipe away, including the ingredients for the rubs.”
Additional demonstrations were given on the celebrity cooking platform by local catering sensation Eddie Deen, Chef Eduardo Alvarez, and Chef Enam Chowdhury. Others taking the stage included John Franke, Peter Mollett , and a demo by Moore’s Marinade, sponsor for the chef presentations.
Zest Fest is presented by Spicy Food Productions, and a summer version of the hot and spicy extravaganza is scheduled for the first time this year at the Ohio Expo Center and State Fair June 28 through 30. For more information, visit zestfestmidwest.com.