The prairies of Acadiana are Louisiana's heaviest producers of both rice and crawfish. Together, the two crops constitute Louisiana's happiest agricultural marriage, bringing in an annual bonanza that exceeds $450 million in sales. Louisiana may be the third-largest rice producing state in the United States, but globally, it's number one in crawfish production.
In early spring, when crawfish emerge from their underground winter habitats, they take refuge almost anywhere there is standing water. The earliest commercial fishery of the crustaceans developed in the Atchafalaya River Swamp in the 1940s. Nets were replaced with traps, and rice farmers began to take notice of a symbiosis, when their flooded rice fields provided a perfect place for crawfish's peak springtime spawning.
When the demand for crawfish exploded in the late 1970s and early '80s farmers determined that by using the same land, equipment, pumps and farm labor, they could rotate commercial crawfish farming with rice cultivation and double their profit per acre annually. If crawfish were not already naturally present in their flooded rice fields, only one batch of crawfish stock was needed to begin a never-ending annual harvest.
The results are astounding. Rice farmers have found that post-harvest rice fields provide the ideal forage for crawfish, which will also eat snails and insects —providing the farmers with both a natural insecticide and pesticide. The biomass left behind by the harvested crawfish serves as fertilizer when the new crops of rice are planted.
Crawfish season starts in late February or early March and ends sometime around June. Crawfish size and availability is dependent on rain and temperature. More rain and warmer temperatures lead to larger crawfish size and quantity. Here are three places to get in on some crawfish action.
❶ The Connoisseur’s Boiled Crawfish
Hawk's is open only during the height of crawfish season from roughly early February until the middle of May when the most select crawfish are available. During this brief window in time the restaurant moves an average of 7,000 pounds of boiled crawfish a day and every batch is boiled and seasoned to order. There is a map on the restaurant's website but employees are accustomed to lost souls calling again and again as they try to find their way to the place in the middle of nowhere. People will drive hundreds of miles to experience meat that is pearly white with golden yellow fat. Go there.
❷ La Bam Breme at Crawfish Town USA in Henderson
This towering concoction of fried eggplant, grilled catfish, a crab cake, fried shrimp, and oysters presented all threaded together; during crawfish season the dish is served atop a pool of etouffee crowded with plump crawfish tails.
❸ Old Fashioned Crawfish Bisque
According to Janice "Boo" Macomber, a masterful private Cajun chef and author of “Tastes, Tails & Tales, with The High Priestess of the Bayou,” “the best crawfish bisque you ever want to eat — the old fashioned kin d that's such a pain in the ass to make — comes from the Yellow Bowl on Highway 82 in Jeanerette."
Others passionate for the labor-intensive bisque head to Wayne Jacob's Smokehouse Restaurant in Laplace for that real deal, nearly impossible to find crawfish bisque made with stuffed heads. It is offered on Thursday, Friday and Sunday at WJ's during Easter week.