In 1957 a feature in Holiday magazine described ladies dining on bowls of crawfish bisque Galatoire’s. The article was already a relic by the time I read it years ago, but it stuck for its description of the women delicately employing either cocktail forks or pinkie fingers to scrape the stuffing from the crawfish heads bobbing in the bowls before them then gingerly hanging the empty heads along the edges of their cream soup bowls in a fashion that reminded the writer of a string of pearls.
It just sounded so civilized. Clearly the writer took a bit of poetic license and glossed over the ladies’ frustration as they attempted with knife or fork in one hand, to impale the slippery stuffed heads against the bottoms of their bowls and, splashing gravy on their blouses, tried to pry out the stuffing with implement (or finger). Or, perhaps they attacked the bisque as most of us do and simply plucked the heads from their bowls with their fingers, sucked the stuffing out using their tongues as implements, dropped the empties on their bread plates, and started fishing for the next head.
There is nothing simple, nothing tidy, about crawfish bisque: Not the arduous process of making it, the messy Barbarism required to eat it, nor the lengths to which one must now go to secure a bowl of this rich bliss.
“In our grandmother’s time, making bisque — which only took place during crawfish season — was at least a two-day process,” said Poppy Tooker, host of “Louisiana Eats!” “Granny would have started with a sack of live crawfish, which she would have purged with a saltwater soak. The crawfish would then have been boiled and peeled before the heads were washed, scrubbed, dried, stuffed, baked, and slowly simmered in the soup. From the start of the process until you finally eat the stuffing from the head requires handling each head seven times.”
Galatoire’s stopped serving the laborious dish in the mid-1960s. Most other restaurants followed suit around the same time.
Until this pandemic took root, each spring there were exceptions. Numerous inquiries turned up not a single source for crawfish bisque.
Bisque made from a generations-old Pierce family recipe, that originated in the Bayou Lafourche area, was always on the menu at the erstwhile Bon Ton Cafe – even out of season when the Pierce’s would buy cleaned heads from Bonanza Crawfish in Henderson, something g they had done since the 1960s. “It’s still a pretty big job to make the gravy, make the dressing, and stuff the heads but it is doable,” Wayne Pierce said years ago.
Seemingly forever, each year in early April Tina Cockerham started stuffing the 10,000 pre-cleaned crawfish heads L’il Dizzy’s Cafe needed for the 3,500 or so portions of bisque sold annually at their booth at the Jazz Fest. “I’m on the phone with her every day from the ‘Fest,” said Wayne Bacquet, L’il Dizzy’s former chef/owner. “And I feel real bad when I have to say ‘T, it’s time to get on it again. You’ve got to stuff some more heads.’ But people want it: They want that bisque. We put three in every bowl; two if the heads are really big.”
Concocted using Wayne’s wife Janet Bacquet’s recipe, Li’l Dizzy’s crawfish bisque was of a distinctly Creole style due to a base of peanut butter-colored roux that is cut through with the addition of a touch of tomato sauce. The rusty-hued stew was offered as a special every Friday during Lent, often continuing until the end of crawfish season.
We almost lost L’il Dizzy’s to Damned-demic but Wayne Baquet Jr. and his wife Arkesha Baquet re-opened the beloved eatery in February. Arkesha says the return of crawfish bisque is under consideration for next year.
Honey Whip Donuts and its annual crawfish bisque are also causalities of the pandemic. It was from her grandmother, Naomi Williams, that Faye Antoine learned to make her crawfish bisque. “She was a domestic worker for a family that loved her bisque so much they wanted a supply that would last them until the start of the next crawfish season,” Antoine said in March of 2019. Not one to take shortcuts, each week from the beginning of crawfish season until a week or so after Easter, Antoine would purchase a sack of live, wiggling mudbugs and worked her way through what is arguably the most labor-intensive dish in the Creole culinary canon. She included intact claws in the crustacean-crowded stew she made at her Algiers home to sell in Styrofoam pints or quarts at Honey Whip Donuts, her husband Reyna Antoine’s nearby sweet shop on General Meyer Avenue.
Sooo, after all of this I have no suggestions for where to find the elusive elixir that is crawfish bisque. But as the season came in late due to the intense Mardi Gras freeze there is still a week or so left to make your own. If you are so inclined invite a crowd over and invite them to help you with this recipe from Chef John Folse.
Have a nice weekend. Y’all play nice.
Makes 6 Servings
“Crawfish bisque is a tradition in Louisiana,” Folse s “This dish is normally made in May or June, toward the end of crawfish season. Usually, an entire family gets together to make enough bisque at one time for everyone’s freezer.”
- 2 pounds cleaned crawfish tails
- 60 cleaned crawfish heads (available at Big Fisherman on Magazine Street)
- 1½ cups minced onions
- 1 cup minced celery
- ½ cup minced bell pepper
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- ½ cup chopped parsley
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 2 cups seasoned Italian breadcrumbs
- salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grind crawfish tails, onions, celery, bell pepper, garlic and parsley in a home-style meat grinder or food processor. Once ground, add eggs and enough breadcrumbs to hold the mixture together but not so that the stuffing becomes too bready. Begin with 1 cup. Season to taste using salt and pepper. Stuff equal amounts into the 60 crawfish heads. Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly browned to fully cook the seasonings in the crawfish heads. Remove and set aside.
- 1pound cleaned crawfish tails
- 1½ cups vegetable oil
- 1½ cups flour
- 1½ cups diced onion
- 1 cup diced celery
- ½ cup diced bell pepper
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- ¼ cup tomato sauce
- 3 quarts crawfish stock
- 1 cup chopped green onions
- ½ cup chopped parsley
- salt and black pepper to taste
In a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add flour and, using a wire whisk, stir constantly until dark brown roux is achieved. Add onions, celery, bell pepper and garlic and sauté until vegetables are wilted, approximately 3 to 5 minutes. Add crawfish tails and tomato sauce, blending well into vegetable mixture. Slowly add crawfish stock a little at a time until sauce-like consistency is achieved. Additional stock may be needed during the cooking process. Bring to a rolling boil, reduce to simmer, and add stuffed crawfish heads. Stir well into the mixture and simmer 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. It is important to stir the dish since the crawfish will settle to the bottom of the pot and may tend to scorch. Add green onions and parsley and season to taste using salt and pepper. Serve in a 10-ounce soup bowl over white rice.