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Crawfish at Lent

Crawfish Portabellos

EUGENIA UHL PHOTOGRAPH

When God gave Louisiana crawfish, the timing couldn’t have been better. The Lenten season, when Christians and Catholics shun meat, coincides with the peak of mudbug maturation in the waterways of our swamps.

Could there be a more versatile creature in the culinary world? Hardly. If you’re not boiling them in the backyard, devouring them greedily off a table covered with newspapers and sucking their heads, you can fit them into all types of recipes – soups, stews, stuffings and bisques to name a few – plus they match up with pasta like gravy for rice. For me, it’s little penance to dine on these tasty shellfish, whether they’re included in appetizers, party dips or entrées.

Now comes the question of buying Louisianian or Chinese crawfish. This being a religious season, I’ll first confess that I purchase most of my clothes from a shop that I love but lately have been noticing little tags inside the handsome jackets and silky pantsuits that say “Made in China.” I am still thinking about what to do about that, but I have at least decided to give up Chinese crawfish for Lent. (Yes, I’m guilty there, too.) I have been known to purchase a less expensive pound of crawfish from China. I once saw a film on the Chinese processing plants and was impressed with the cleanliness of them. When they began adding fat to the packages, I was sold. Now, I’m fighting for the Louisiana seafood industry and I’m willing to spend a little more to get our crawfish and keep those fishers going.

My favorite way to eat crawfish is hot and spicy, just out of the boiling pot with corn, potatoes and garlic. Spring weather adds the irresistible facade of greening trees, butterflies, blooming flowers and temperatures perfect for outdoor dining. After the boil, I hoard the leftovers for omelets, salads and bisque. A double boil can feed half a dozen people with plenty left over for packing the freezer with étouffée.

Next, I’m weak for crawfish pasta, which comes together with a creamy, spicy sauce. I recently attended an anniversary celebration in the river parishes where a dish called pastalaya was on the menu. Pasta replaced rice with the usual jambalaya ingredients and a creamy texture brought it all together. Cooks in this area know their stuff, so I copied the dish using crawfish instead of chicken. Voila! A success that’s easy enough for a weeknight dinner.

I can’t resist shellfish in stuffings – oysters in dressing, shrimp in mirlitons, crabmeat in eggplant – and a package of crawfish tails fits right into any of these with no peeling necessary. I love mushrooms and those big portabellos in the grocery store intrigue me. How could I go wrong stuffing some of those with the versatile mudbug? Bingo! Another success. Serve it as an entrée with salad and crusty French bread.

There are many things to love about Louisiana in the springtime, and crawfish ranks high on the list. Now that I’m buying local, I’ve got to watch those tags on spring clothes.

CRAWFISH PASTALAYA
1/2 pound smoked sausage
2 tablespoons extra-virgin
      olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 green onions, chopped,
       white and green parts divided
1/2 bell pepper, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
Salt, pepper and cayenne
      pepper to taste
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 pound linguine, fettuccine
      or pasta of choice
1 pound Louisiana crawfish
      tails, with fat
2 tablespoons chopped
      flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup grated good-quality
       Parmesan

Slice sausage into 1/4-inch circles. In a heavy pot, brown on both sides.

Add oil and sauté onion, bell pepper, celery and white parts of green onion until soft. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute more. Add seasonings and cream, and reduce over a medium-low fire for about 8 minutes until thickened.

Meanwhile, boil pasta according to package directions. Drain, toss with a little olive oil or a bit of the sauce, and hold in warm pot.

Add crawfish to cream mixture and simmer for 5 minutes. Add green onion tops and parsley and simmer 1 minute more. Remove from fire and stir in cheese. When ready to serve, toss with pasta and serve on large platter. At the table, offer extra Parmesan to sprinkle, if desired.

Serves 4 to 6.

CRAWFISH PORTABELLOS
4 large portabello mushrooms
Olive oil
3 tablespoons butter, divided
1 bunch green onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound Louisiana crawfish tails
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
Salt, pepper and cayenne
      pepper to taste
1/2 cup Italian breadcrumbs
4 tablespoons grated, good-
       quality Parmesan cheese

Wipe portabellos with a damp paper towel. Cut out stems, chop and reserve. Using olive oil, grease a baking pan and the outside of the mushroom caps. Set the mushrooms upside down on the pan.

In a medium pot or large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter and sauté onions and garlic until soft. Add mushroom stems and sauté another minute. Add crawfish tails and seasonings, and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add breadcrumbs, tossing to mix well. Place stuffing inside portabello caps, sprinkle with Parmesan and dot with small pieces of the remaining tablespoon of butter.

Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 30 minutes, or until golden on top, and mushrooms are fork-tender. Halfway through baking, brush rims of the mushroom caps with oil olive to keep them from drying out.
Serves 4.

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