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The Versatile Crawfish

4 recipes to try this spring

Stir-fried crawfish with tasso and bok choy

Eugenia Uhl Photograph

King crawfish is an agreeable fellow, as far as cooking goes. His fearsome appearance suggests otherwise, but he is actually extremely adaptable and compliant, and he gets along well with a variety of ingredients. I suppose you could say that he is well-socialized, but only after he has been boiled. In most crawfish preparations, of course, the crawfish are first boiled and then the tail meat and fat are combined with other ingredients to create the final dish. Essentially, the crawfish are twice-cooked, though that’s not a common characterization.

In Louisiana, the most famous crawfish preparations are boiled crawfish, etouffée, bisque and crawfish pies, though bisque is probably more talked about than prepared, due to the time and labor required. It is definitely a special occasion dish. Boiled crawfish are a rite of spring and a Lenten mainstay. Due to the availability of frozen crawfish tail meat, etouffée is prepared throughout the year, as are a plethora of other crawfish dishes. Crawfish pie is a delicious dish, but it really owes its celebrity to the Hank Williams song “Jambalaya (On the Bayou).”

There may be a limit to how many different crawfish preparations are possible, but if there is, I’m not aware of it. Crawfish egg rolls, crawfish fried rice, crawfish boudin, crawfish stuffing for poultry, crawfish crepes, crawfish stew – those dishes only scratch the surface of crawfish cookery.

The crawfish has become a signature emblem of Louisiana that is recognized around the world, but it was not always that way. It took a long time for crawfish to gain its current standing in Louisiana gastronomy. It’s true that crawfish have a long and storied history in French cuisine, and French settlers in Louisiana brought their taste for the crustacean with them. Crawfish bisque, in particular, became a prominent feature of the Creole cuisine that evolved in New Orleans. But it was a harder sell for the Acadian refugees who settled in south Louisiana. They had no tradition of eating crawfish. Indeed, in rural South Louisiana, crawfish developed a stigma as “poverty food.”

According to Stir the Pot: The History of Cajun Cuisine, by Marcelle Bienvenu, Carl A. Brasseaux and Ryan A. Brasseaux, crawfish did not play a significant role in the Cajun diet until the mid-20th century. But once eating crawfish became popular in Cajun Louisiana, there was no stopping it. Now crawfish are closely identified with Acadiana, where crawfish ponds supply much of the state’s supply and crawfish are used in an infinite variety of preparations.


Stir-Fried Crawfish With Tasso & Bok Choy

This dish, which requires little prep and cooks quickly, is ideal for a busy weeknight.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced ginger root
½ cup cubed tasso
1 cup crawfish tails,
    peeled and deveined
4 cups chopped bok choy
½ cup chicken broth
Cajun/Creole seasoning to taste

Heart wok or large skillet over high heat. Add oil and heat. Add garlic and ginger root and stir quickly until fragrant. Add tasso and stir briefly. Add crawfish and stir. Add bok choy and stir. Add chicken broth and cook, while stirring and tossing, until bok choy softens. Season with Cajun/Creole seasoning. Serve with steamed rice.

Makes 4 servings.


Savory Crawfish & Vegetable Pancakes

Thanks to the demand for gluten-free products, many specialty flours are now readily available in supermarkets. The garbanzo bean (chickpea) flour used in this recipe is high in protein and extremely flavorful. Carrots and bell peppers can be shredded with a box grater or vegetable peeler

1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup garbanzo bean flour
½ teaspoon salt
1¹⁄8 cup water
1 egg, lightly beaten
½ cup shredded carrots
½ cup shredded bell pepper
1 large jalapeño pepper,
    seeded and minced
¼ cup chopped green onion tops
1 cup chopped crawfish
Vegetable oil for frying
Soy sauce for serving
Hot sauce for serving

In a large mixing bowl, combine the two flours and salt. Slowly add water, while stirring, until smooth. Add egg and stir to combine. Add carrots, bell pepper, jalapeño, onion tops and crawfish and stir to combine.

Add a film of oil to a nonstick frying pan and heat over medium heat. Using a large spoon, add about ¼ cup of the mixture to the pan. Use the back of the spoon to press down and smooth the crawfish and vegetables. Cook until nicely browned, about 1 minute. Using a spatula, turn pancake and cook for another minute until browned. Repeat with remaining batter. If batter becomes too thick, thin with a little water. Keep pancakes warm in a low oven. Serve with soy sauce and hot sauce.

Makes about 12 pancakes.


Crawfish Balls

These can be served as an hors d’oeuvre or appetizer.

1 cup crawfish tails,
    peeled and deveined
½ cup breadcrumbs
¼ cup melted butter
2 teaspoons chopped parsley
2 eggs
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Hot sauce to taste
Cajun/Creole seasoning to taste
Flour for dredging
Butter for frying
Vegetable oil for frying
Cocktail or remoulade sauce

Place crawfish in food processor fitted with metal blade and pulse several times to grind. Add breadcrumbs, butter, parsley and eggs, and pulse until well combined. Season with lemon juice, hot sauce and Cajun/Creole seasoning and pulse to combine. Form mixture into balls about the size of a walnut.

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. In a large skillet over medium heat, add butter and oil to a depth of about ½ inch. Dredge balls in flour and cook in batches, without overcrowding, turning them to brown all over. Drain on absorbent paper and keep warm in oven. Repeat with remaining balls, adding additional butter and oil as needed. Serve with cocktail or remoulade sauce.

Makes about 24 crawfish balls.


Crawfish Cornbread

Leftover cornbread can be split, toasted and buttered.

1 cup crawfish tails,
    peeled and deveined
Cajun/Creole seasoning to taste
1½ cups cornmeal,
    preferably stone ground
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1½ cups milk
4 tablespoons butter, melted
½ cup grated cheddar cheese
1 large jalapeño,
    seeded and chopped
1 small bell pepper,
    seeded and chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 9-inch square baking
pan. Season crawfish generously with Cajun/Creole seasoning and set aside.

Combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder and salt in large bowl and whisk to combine. In another bowl, beat eggs, add milk and stir into dry ingredients. Add melted butter and cheddar, and stir to combine.  Add jalapeño, bell pepper and crawfish. Stir to combine. Pour into prepared pan and bake in preheated oven until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes.

Makes 9 servings.

 

 

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