There comes a time in the yearly cycle of every Louisianian that they have to face the cruel truth that crawfish season is over. By July the shells on what crawfish are left have turned hard – nature’s way of saying it is time to move on. Usually the peak of the season is from February to June, so it is not too late to start planning ahead. Here are two places to put on your list (and if you don’t have a list, make one) for next season.
After an unseasonably cool spring that has pushed crawfish season a little later, this article contains tips on how to eat what are arguably the best-boiled crawfish on the planet at Cajun Claws in Abbeville.
Abbeville is a town of about 12,000, located 20 miles south of Lafayette. The timing here is crucial. If you miss the first seating, you will have to wait an extra 90 minutes. Cajun Claws runs out of crawfish virtually every day, thus it is advised to make it to the first seating to ensure that you get your tray of mudbugs.
Wait in the parking lot until 4 p.m., when the doors open and you can place your name on the list for the first seating. Bring a book or a tablet or a smartphone with enough battery power to see you through this unfortunate yet necessary step. When the doors open and you place your name on the list, you can sit at the tiny bar attached to the dining area and have a beer. You can also try the secondarily famous butterflied fried shrimp while you wait. The shrimp recipe, like the crawfish seasoning recipe, is a closely held and mysterious family recipe of the owners, the Choate family. The shrimp are huge and fresh, the batter is perfectly golden and crispy in a tempura-y way. Be forewarned, the shrimp are not primarily why you are here. Save room for crawfish!
Seating starts at 5 p.m., and if you followed the above steps correctly, you will be seated by 5:15 or so.
Order five pounds of crawfish at your desired level of spiciness. I find that “medium” is not spicy enough and that “spicy” is the correct heat level and is not overly spicy. You can, of course, order three pounds of crawfish, but I cannot in good conscience recommend eating less than five. Make your dipping sauce. If you are a crawfish newbie, it typically consists mainly of mayonnaise and ketchup, with Worcestershire, horseradish, and various hot sauces added to taste.
Enjoy the fruits of this complicated, lengthy process and eat the crawfish. The owner, Donni Choate, is a crawfish broker and hand-selects all the crawfish served at Cajun Claws. The ones deemed insufficient are sold to restaurants and distributors. The crawfish are then purged for at least a day in fresh water to cleanse them.
They are then seasoned and cooked according to another mysterious family recipe. Cajun Claws serves up huge, thoroughly purged crawfish, but it is this cryptic step in the preparation process that truly makes them special. It is fairly common to encounter boiled crawfish that are caked with Cajun seasoning blends, most of which winds up on your hands/clothes and discarded shells. Cajun Claws serves crawfish that is completely infused with their signature blend. The delicate shellfish meat is enhanced without being overpowered. Every tray of crawfish is true wizardry.
Brag to your friends at work the following Monday, exhibiting pictures on your phone of monstrous, steaming crawfish, recounting your culinary adventure with a wizened twinkle in your eye.
1928 Charity St., Abbeville
Hawk’s in Rayne
Hawk’s is, as indicated by its slogan, “located in the middle of nowhere!” In this instance, the middle of nowhere is a small road off of a country highway roughly between Eunice and Rayne. Hawk’s also uses the purging process by which the crawfish are flushed with fresh water for a day or so. The proprietors similarly pride themselves on their selectivity about the crawfish they choose to serve. In peak season they can be gigantic.
There is some debate in southwest Louisiana as to the effectiveness of purging. I find that it really makes a difference, and after eating enough purged crawfish I found it difficult to revert to typical crawdads. The primary purpose is often cited as the removal grit from the shell and digesta from the intestinal tract, resulting in a cleaner product. I find that it also augments the taste in some way, perhaps allowing the seasoning to penetrate more deeply into the meat. At any rate, Hawk’s boiled crawfish are some of the best-tasting I have ever encountered.
Hawk’s is worth the temporal investment of driving out to the country. And although it’s a bit of a hike, it has expanded over the years, and there is rarely a wait if you get there reasonably early.
Information, 415 Hawks Road, Rayne