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Crawfish 7 Ways

The Boil And More

• model Alexandra Chaisson • hair Niki Walker • makeup Lauren Kattan • stylist Lisa Tudor

EUGENIA UHL PHOTOGRAPH

 

 

I ate my first crawfish

as a child while visiting my grandmother, who lived in the river parishes. I was from Memphis, and no one there ate crawfish back then. But here, we consumed them in the form of crawfish bisque, the most delicious dish that had ever touched my lips.

My aunt’s cook made this unbelievable thick soup with stuffed shells floating on top. When we spooned out the stuffing, we fastened the empty shells to the rims of our bowls. The great fear when hurricanes approached was losing electricity with freezers full of crawfish bisque, made only in the springtime before the days of crawfish farming. A little container of crawfish bisque was like gold, and we often took a couple of them back to Memphis.

Much later, when I moved to New Orleans, boiling sacks of crawfish was not yet popular in the city, and we thrived on boiled crabs and shrimp with the occasional bowl of crawfish bisque. But it wasn’t long until the bugs hit the big time; we invested in a giant pot and spent spring weekends in the backyard boiling away. We still wonder how the rest of America lives without this culinary wonder.

Making crawfish bisque is a two-day affair that I’ve attempted only twice. First you kill the crawfish by tossing them in boiling water for a minute, then after cooling you peel the tails and clean some shells for stuffing. Next day, you cook.

A neighbor who worked with me on one batch told me the sad tale of her sister-in-law who went into labor at the end of the long bisque routine, leaving the finished containers on a counter to cool. Her last words to her husband before giving birth were to put the containers in the freezer. But, alas, in the confusion of the new baby experience, he forgot and the precious yield went down the drain.

My husband and I made the painful mistake of waiting until the end of a crawfish season to peel a 50-pound batch. Their shells harden with age, and our hands and nails paid the price. I have finally come up with a version using peeled tails and just a few boiled crawfish that I buy to get the shells.

We had our share of backyard boils after splitting the cost of a giant boiling pot and burner gear with two fellow journalists on the old States-Item. We still recall the days when a sack of live crawfish went for under $.50 a pound. These days, we mostly frequent our favorite neighborhood haunts that have their recipes down pat.

I asked some of the experts what makes their bounty so good.

Most said cleaning the crawfish properly was the most important step. Others said the soaking process was the key, while some claimed their handle on the seasoning mix makes the difference.

“Make sure the crawfish are clean so you don’t have a muddy taste,” says Shawn Kelley, owner of Charles Seafood in Harahan. Don’t use salt, he adds, “because it will kill them.”
Oops! We used to soak the live crawfish in salty water in large tubs.

“If you don’t start off with clean crawfish, you end up with mud and it transfers into the flavor,” says Jason Duhé, owner of Duhé’s Cajun & Creole Cravins in LaPlace. “Clean them off with lots of fresh water on washing tables in a big tub … turning, hosing and working them with (gloved) hands or paddle.”

While hosing them down, remove the dead ones, they all say.

“We walk them down a plank and pick out the dead ones. We spray them with a hose and clean them good. Once into the cage, we rinse them off again,” says Vicky Patania, who with her husband, Dennis, owns The Galley in Metairie. Their cleaning technique uses no salt and no purge.

Soaking is loud and clear in the process of boiling great crawfish.

When the crawfish come to a boil, turn off the fire and add ice to stop the boil, says chef David Nestor of Morton’s Seafood in Madisonville. “This helps the seasoning to soak in for 15 or 20 minutes.”

Nestor begins by adding seasonings to his pot of water, along with onions, celery and lemons. When it comes to a boil he adds the crawfish and potatoes. When it comes to the second boil, he turns off the heat, adds the corn and ice and sometimes mushrooms.

“The soaking process allows all of the different flavors in the crawfish boil to marry,” says Jason Seither, owner of Seither’s Seafood in Harahan.

Seither soaks his for 45 minutes to an hour, after adding ice as soon as the crawfish come to a boil. In his restaurant he serves the traditional corn and potatoes, but he gets wild with ingredients when he often boils crawfish at the Maple Leaf Bar.

“It’s almost like an experimentation boil for me,” he says. “I have put boudin, andouille sausage, rabbit, frog legs, pork chops, quail, whole duck … I’ve even put a whole alligator leg in there before. Everything comes out good and everybody eats it all up.”

“We cook everything else separately,” says Chris Robinson, manager of Harbor Seafood & Oyster Bar in Kenner, meaning the vegetables, sausage and other shellfish.

But the most important step is finding the right blend of seasonings, not too salty or too hot. “We have our own mix,” he says. “We use rock salt. It works better because of the way it breaks down.”

Cajun Seafood’s chef-owner Chi Nguyen times his crawfish by taste.

I don’t measure,” he says. “The texture of the crawfish determines the time and seasoning. There is a lot of tasting. If I eat it and it’s good, I serve it to customers.”

Nguyen and his family own three takeouts and a restaurant on North Claiborne Avenue, where he boils up to 5,000 pounds per day during prime season. He began boiling crawfish at his North Broad Street location in 1990. Like Robinson, he cooks his vegetables separately.

Savvy crawfish cooks hide few secrets because they love talking about their techniques.

“People in south Louisiana are passionate about the way they cook,” says Duhé, who works full-time as an industrial engineer in the oil and gas industry. But on weekends, his LaPlace off-site catering business is boiling up hundreds of pounds of crawfish. His secret is lemon extract, added about 30 minutes after the fire is turned off due to its low boiling point. But it’s expensive and not as pretty as yellow lemons against a sea of orange crawfish.

Just for fun, I used half lemons and half lemon extract in the accompanying recipe with good results. I agree that experimentation and sharing new tricks are part of the fun at Louisiana’s backyard boils.

 

After-the-Boil Crawfish Étouffée

1 pound crawfish tails and fat
1/2 stick butter
4 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 onion, chopped
6 green onions, chopped, white and green parts, divided
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
2 1/2 cups water or seafood stock made from boiling crawfish shells
Salt, cayenne pepper and Creole seasoning to taste, if necessary
2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
Cooked rice

Peel and devein crawfish tails left over from a crawfish boil to measure 1 pound or 2 cups. Use a knife to remove all yellow fat from heads. If desired, boil shells, covered in water, for 30 minutes to make stock. Strain and set aside.

In a medium, heavy pot, melt butter and stir in flour. Over medium heat, stir constantly to make a light brown roux, the color of butterscotch. Add white onions, bell pepper and celery and simmer until vegetables are wilted, Add garlic and simmer 1 minute more. Add tomato paste and cook briefly. Gradually add stock or water. Cover and cook for 15 minutes. Stir in crawfish and fat, cook for 1 minute and taste. Seasoning from the crawfish may be enough. If needed, add seasonings such as salt, cayenne pepper and Creole seasoning to taste and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in green onions and parsley.

Serve over rice.

Serves 6


Crawfish-Stuffed Peppers

4 green peppers
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound crawfish tails with fat, roughly chopped
1 10-ounce can mild or hot Rotel tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 cup seasoned Italian breadcrumbs
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Cut peppers in half lengthwise. Set aside 1

and parboil the other 7 halves in boiling water for 3 minutes. Drain. Chop the remaining half.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.

Heat oil in a large skillet. Sauté onion, celery and chopped pepper until wilted. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute more. Add crawfish tails, tomatoes, salt pepper and Italian seasoning and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes over low heat. Remove from heat and stir in parsley, breadcrumbs and half the Parmesan. Stuff mixture into green pepper shells and top with other half of Parmesan. Bake for 20 minutes.

Serves 4 to 6


Crawfish Pie

1/2 stick butter
4 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 onion, chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped, green and white parts separates
1 stalk celery, chopped
1/2 bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds crawfish tails with fat
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 Tablespoons sherry
Salt, freshly ground pepper, Creole seasoning and cayenne pepper to taste
1 cup Half & Half
2 Tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 pie shells, homemade or store-bought refrigerated

Melt butter in a medium pot. Add flour and stir constantly over medium heat to make a roux the color of butterscotch. Add white onion, celery and bell pepper and cook until transparent. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add crawfish tails, Worcestershire, sherry and seasonings. Mix well. Gradually stir in Half & Half. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

Stir in parsley and green onion tops.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place piecrust in a 10-inch pie plate or pan, fill with crawfish mixture and cover with other crust, pinching edges together. Cut 6 to 8 slits in the top pastry for vents.

Bake about 1 hour, turning heat to 400 in the last 15 minutes to brown pie.

Let pie rest at least 30 minutes before serving to set.

Serves 6 to 8


Crawfish Bisque

2 pounds boiled crawfish
2 pounds crawfish tails
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 large onion, chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped, green and white parts separated
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon each salt, freshly ground black pepper,
Creole seasoning and cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
4 1/2 cups water or stock, plus more if needed
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup breadcrumbs made from stale French bread in food processor
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Cooked white rice

Peel and devein boiled crawfish, reserving all fat from the heads and being careful to keep large head shells intact. (If desired, boil discarded shells in additional water to cover for 30 minutes and strain to make stock.) Put tails and fat in a small bowl. Clean shells, dry them with a towel and set aside. You should have about 3 dozen. Place 1/2-pound packaged crawfish tails in a food processor and set aside.

In a large pot, heat oil and stir in 1 cup of flour. Over medium heat, make a brown roux, stirring constantly. When roux is the color of chocolate, add white onions, celery and bell pepper. Reduce heat and cook about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook a minute more. Add seasonings, thyme and lemon juice, and gradually stir in 1 cup of water. Cook a few minutes and remove 1 cup of the mixture to the food processor containing 1/2-pound crawfish tails. To the roux remaining in the pot, add tomato paste, remaining stock water, reserved crawfish tails with fat and remaining 1 1/2-pound packaged crawfish tails. Cover and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes.

While bisque is simmering, heat oven to 350 degrees and spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray. Pulse crawfish tails and roux in the food processor to a coarse purée. The stuffing should be the consistency of sausage. Remove from processor and mix with breadcrumbs in a medium bowl. At this point, add water, if needed, to make the mixture the consistency of a dressing or stuffing. Stuff into reserved shells. Sift remaining cup of flour and place on a sheet of tin foil. Roll stuffed shells to lightly coat them in flour. Shake off excess flour and place on cookie sheet. Brown in oven, turning once or twice. When lightly browned, remove from oven and set aside.    

At this point, the bisque must be puréed to bisque consistency. Using a hand blender is the easiest way to purée the bisque right in the pot. Otherwise, you’ll have to take several portions of the bisque at a time, purée each in a blender or food processor and return to the pot. If bisque needs thinning, add water until desired consistency is reached.

Shortly before serving, add parsley and green onion tops to bisque. Add stuffed shells and heat over low heat, stirring frequently and gently, being careful to keep stuffed shells in tact. Serve in bowls over rice with 5 or 6 stuffed shells per serving. Each serving should have 1/3- to 1/2-cup of rice.

Serves 6 as entrée


Creamy Crawfish Pasta

4 Tablespoons butter
6 green onions, chopped
3 large cloves garlic, minced
Salt, freshly ground pepper and Creole seasoning to taste
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 cup Half & Half
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 pound crawfish tails with fat
1/2 pound fettuccine or linguine
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Melt butter in a large saucepan or skillet. Add green onions and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute more. Add seasonings. Gradually add wine, Half & Half and cream, and simmer over medium-low heat for 15 minutes, uncovered, stirring frequently. Add crawfish tails and simmer for 5 more minutes.

Just before serving, bring to boil a large pot of salted water and cook pasta until al dente (just done). Drain pasta and heat sauce. In a large bowl or on a large platter mix pasta,
sauce and Parmesan.

Serves 4


Hot Crawfish Dip

2 Tablespoons butter
1 bunch green onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound crawfish tails, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Creole seasoning
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Melt butter in a medium skillet. Sauté green onions until wilted.

Add garlic and sauté 1 minute
more. Add crawfish tails, seasonings, Worcestershire, Tabasco and lemon juice. Cook over medium heat for
5 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in cream cheese until thoroughly mixed. Add mayonnaise to reach a dip consistency. Adjust seasonings. Stir in parsley. Serve hot.
Serve with French baguette slices or Melba toast rounds.

Note: This dip can be served in baked puff pastry shells as an entrée.

Makes about 3 cups


Crawfish Boil

1 40- to 50-pound bag live crawfish
1 4.5-pound crawfish, shrimp and crab boil
complete seasoning mix
3 to 5 pounds small red potatoes
6 medium onions
8 heads garlic
10 ears corn, shucked and cut in half
3 artichokes
1 pound sausage, cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces
2 pounds large white mushrooms
8 lemons, cut in half, or 4 lemons, cut in half,
plus 3 ounces lemon extract
Extra salt and cayenne pepper if needed

It is best to buy crawfish the same day you’re cooking them. It is smart to call ahead and order them from your seafood vendor. Many places stay open on Sunday mornings for an hour or two during crawfish season. If you must pick them up the day before, hold them live in empty ice chests. Shortly before boiling, rinse crawfish thoroughly with a hose, preferably on a table with sides, in a giant tub or small child’s swimming pool. Several ice chests will work as well. Empty water several times and hose again to make sure all of the mud and debris are removed. Discard any dead crawfish, which should float to the top.

In a large outdoor crawfish boiling pot fitted with a strainer, bring 15 gallons of water to a boil over a propane burner. Make sure the pot is in a safe place away from children and pets.

Add seasoning mix. Add potatoes, onions and garlic and continue boiling for 15 minutes. Add artichokes and sausage and boil another 10 minutes. Add corn and mushrooms and boil for 5 more minutes. Remove strainer and let vegetables drain. Check with a fork to make sure vegetables are done. If anything isn’t done, return it to the pot for a few more minutes. Place vegetables in an empty ice chest to stay warm.

Return strainer to pot, and bring water back to a boil.

Add crawfish to the pot and bring water almost to a boil but not quite. Turn off heat when the crawfish begin to float. This allows the crawfish to soak longer and absorb more flavor without overcooking. Let crawfish soak for 15 minutes. Taste a couple of crawfish to test for seasoning. Add 8 lemons, or 4 lemons and lemon extract. At this point, continue to soak crawfish and taste until crawfish reach the degree of seasoning that you like. Check at 15-minute intervals and soak for up to an hour. After half or most of the soaking is done, add extra salt or cayenne pepper if you want more spice. (I add about 1/3 cup cayenne pepper.) When ready, lift crawfish out of the pot, strain and place half on a large table prepared with newspapers. Place the other half in an ice chest to stay warm. Top the hot crawfish on the table with half the vegetables. When the first batch is devoured, fill table with the remaining crawfish and vegetables.

Provide crawfish trays for serving, or allow guests to stand around the table to eat. Provide containers for discarding shells and chests of cold beer.

Optional: Bowls of melted butter for dipping artichokes and potatoes.

Serves 20 to 25 people

 

 

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