Just after our seafood industry was threatened by the openings of the Mississippi River spillway, we get the good news of a crawfish abundance and lower prices. That’s manna from heaven for the backyard cooks.
Backyards are not the only place the mudbug reaches culinary heights. There are many ways to bring them to the white tablecloth in the dining room as well. Crawfish etouffee is a popular choice, and they can replace shrimp in dishes such as jambalaya and stuffed eggplants, peppers or mirlitons.
Crawfish are good in salads and dozens of appetizers such as dips, beignets and boulettes, using leftover crawfish from a boil, or purchasing the one-pound bags, fresh or frozen, of peeled and deveined crawfish with fat. Any chef will tell you to buy Louisiana crawfish, not those shipped from Asia, because ours are fresher and packaged with lots of crawfish fat. The fat, found in the heads, gets high marks for seasoning.
There is also the famous crawfish pie, known to many people by song if not by taste. Usually, a thickened crawfish filling is placed in pastry for deep-fried turnovers, or crawfish pies can be baked in a regular pie shell. For a fancier pie, at Easter perhaps, an easy frozen puff pastry that sits atop a well-seasoned crawfish mixture might be served as a side dish on a buffet table, or even as an entrée for a smaller group.
We owe our crawfish culture to French colonists deported from eastern Canada, who settled in southwest Louisiana more than 250 years ago. They lived off the land to survive and used their French cooking skills to feed their families. Their appreciation of crawfish spread throughout Louisiana, now the major harvester of crawfish in the country. It is no wonder that the Acadians’ love of meat pies came to include a crawfish substitution, the crawfish pie.
Many thanks to the lowly mudbug and French food intuition.
1 17.3-ounce frozen puff pastry sheets
5 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 onion, chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped, white and green parts separated
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup seafood or chicken stock
1/3 cup dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ teaspoon Creole seasoning
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound Louisiana crawfish tails with fat
¼ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1. Remove one puff pastry sheet from package 40 minutes before baking. Thaw partially at room temperature still folded in paper wrap. Return other sheet to freezer for other use. Using a sheet of paper, cut a pattern for the pastry to fit the top of a 10-to-12-inch baking dish that is several inches deep. With leftover pastry scraps, you can cut small decorations such as pastry crawfish.
2. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease or spray a baking sheet. When partially thawed, unfold pastry on a lightly floured surface. If there are any breaks in the pastry, wet your finger and push it back together. Place on baking sheet with any decorations on the side. Bake for 15 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes. This can be made ahead and reheated for 1 minute just before use.
3. Melt butter in a large skillet, add flour and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, to make a medium-brown roux. Add white onions, celery and green pepper and simmer for 4 minutes. Add garlic and simmer for another minute. Stir in tomato paste. Add stock, wine, seasonings and crawfish and continue simmering, covered, for about 25 minutes. Add parsley and green onion tops.
4. When ready to serve, heat crawfish mixture until hot and place a casserole dish. Heat puff pastry for a few minutes in a hot oven and place on top of crawfish pie filling. Serves 6 to 8.
A versatile crustacean
Crawfish are forever making new appearances. They have been sighted in potato salad and deviled eggs. Deliciously so, in fact. We saw them in king cake. What’s next? What about spring rolls and more poor boys?