Something A-Peeling

It’s crawfish season!

EUGENIA UhL PHOTOGRAPH

Crawfish were once considered poverty food – but no more. Like cheap gas, cheap crawfish are a thing of the past. At the beginning of the year, live crawfish were selling for around $3 a pound if you could find any at all. A 3-pound order of boiled crawfish at a seafood restaurant set you back $20, and the crawfish were very small, as they always are at that time of year.

Logically, it didn’t make sense to buy or eat crawfish at those prices that early in the season, but reason certainly didn’t keep crowds from filling the seats of any restaurant that had crawfish on the menu. There may be a price that is high enough to discourage crawfish consumption, but I don’t think we’ve seen it yet.

Crawfish prices always vary greatly during the season, but they follow fairly predictable cycles based on supply and demand. There aren’t many crawfish early on, both supply and demand increase as the season gets under way, demand spikes during Lent and then drops off some as the supply increases and the price decreases throughout the spring months. If the wild catch from the Atchafalaya Basin is good, we’ll have crawfish in early summer. Then there are the unpredictable variables of weather – extremes of heat and cold, drought, heavy rainfall, hurricanes and all the rest – that can wreak havoc on the life cycle of the crawfish.

In addition to their innate deliciousness, part of the appeal of crawfish is that they are so versatile and can be prepared in so many different ways. They lend themselves to preparations that are quick and easy to execute and that deliver great flavor. Crawfish also combine easily with a variety of ingredients and seasonings and can be incorporated into many different styles of cooking.

In Louisiana, we are most accustomed to eating crawfish dishes served with rice – savory and delicious étouffées, stews and bisques. Because a lot of our crawfish are raised in flooded rice fields, there is a pleasing symbiotic relationship in this pairing. But crawfish also combine well with many fresh vegetables, as well as pasta and potatoes.

The recipes that follow are all simple, and none of them requires much preparation time.

Crawfish With Garlic and Spinach

By using packaged crawfish tails and pre-washed packaged spinach, this dish can be prepared in under 10 minutes.

It might even convert some who think they don’t like spinach.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound peeled crawfish tails
1/3 cup chicken stock or broth
1 pound spinach
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cayenne pepper

Heat the oil in large casserole or wok. Add the garlic, and stir until fragrant. Add the crawfish tails and chicken stock, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the spinach; cover; and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the spinach is wilted, about 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and peppers. Serves 4.

Crawfish With Pesto and Pasta

I like to use the pasta called orecchiette (“little ears”) for this dish, although shells also work well. Either shape nestles comfortably with crawfish tails, but the combination of “little ears and tails” has a certain linguistic elegance about it.

2 cups loosely packed fresh basil
1/2 garlic clove
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound pasta (orecchiette or shells)
1 pound peeled crawfish tails
1/2 cup chicken stock or broth
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put a large pot of water on the stove to boil. Meanwhile, in the bowl of a food processor, combine the basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmigiano-Reggiano and olive oil. Process until puréed. Transfer pesto to a large serving bowl.

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a sauce pan or skillet, simmer the crawfish tails in chicken stock, stirring occasionally. Drain the cooked pasta in a colander, and add it to the pesto in the serving bowl. Add the crawfish tails and pan juices, and toss well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serves 4.

Crawfish and Tasso Jambalaya

Crawfish and pork are a felicitous combination, particularly when the pork has been seasoned and smoked to produce tasso, the Cajun charcuterie specialty. With the addition of rice, you have a Cajun trifecta.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 rib celery, diced
1 medium bell pepper, diced
1 cup diced tasso
1 pound peeled crawfish tails
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 1/2 cups chicken stock or broth
1 teaspoon Creole seasoning
1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
1/4 cup chopped green onion tops
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 cup rice

Heat the oil in a heavy pot; add the onion, garlic, celery, bell pepper and tasso; and cook until the vegetables are softened. Add the crawfish tails, tomatoes with juice, chicken stock, Creole seasoning, hot sauce, green onion tops and parsley, and bring to a boil. Add the rice; cover; reduce heat; and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. Adjust the seasonings. Serves 4.

Warm Potato Salad With Mustard Vinaigrette, Bacon and Crawfish

Another pork-and-crawfish combination, this time in a hearty German-style potato salad.

2 pounds red potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 thick slices bacon
1 medium onion, chopped
1 pound peeled crawfish tails
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup cane or white wine vinegar
1/4 cup Creole mustard
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup chopped green onion tops
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cover the potatoes with salted water, and put them on to boil. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook the bacon until crisp. Remove the bacon, drain, and crumble; discard all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat. Add the onion, crawfish and crumbled bacon to the skillet, and cook on low heat, stirring occasionally.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk the oil and vinegar to form an emulsion. Add the mustard, whisk to combine, and add the parsley and onion tops. When the potatoes are tender, drain them, and then add them to the skillet. Add the mustard vinaigrette, and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serves 4.

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Reader Comments:
Mar 22, 2011 11:27 am
 Posted by  skidd908

Great article and thanks for the recipe's!

Mar 22, 2011 12:50 pm
 Posted by  Genêt

My favorite season of the year! All of the recipes sound delicious. Can't wait to to try them!

Feb 16, 2012 05:38 pm
 Posted by  Ronnie

Trying to find crawfish recipe Which had listed in ingredents 3 Tabl. cajun seasoning " which was way tooooo much. Cannot remember which issue it was in?

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