In Praise of Crawfish

The freshwaters of the Louisiana bayou are finally warming up, which means only one thing: it’s finally crawfish season, y’all!

 

Crawfish, crayfish, crawdads, mudbugs. freshwater lobsters (who are you trying to kid with that fancy nonsense…you know these things eat shit, right?). Whatever you call them, they’re eaten all over the world, but nowhere does them better than the South. Nordic countries serve them cold with dill, and that’s OK, but wouldn’t you rather be lit on fire with cayenne pepper and really ridiculously spicy vegetables? Yes, you would. The corn on the cob is painful to eat, but DAMN it’s good. (My God, this is the Southernest thing: “What happens if y’all boil those scorpion-lookin’ critters in Bear Creek with a buncha spices? Hold my beer.”)

 

A traditional Southern crawfish boil begins like all good ideas do — outside, with a propane tank, an open flame and a giant pot of boiling water. Sure, laugh at us for our turkey fryers, but those things are dual purpose. You can cook crawfish on your stove, but it will make your house a pepper hell that you can’t escape. Crawfish are sold live in 30 pound bags, and yes, they will pinch you. One of my all-time favorite crawfish memories was at the Double Decker Arts Festival in Oxford, Mississippi. The damn things got loose and were wreaking havoc on ankles (and getting stepped on) all over the beautiful, picturesque town square. It was absolutely amazing, and the Square smelled horrible for days.

 

Welcome South, y’all, said the author to the crustacean***Emily Gatlin/The Landshark Crawfish***

Eating your first crawfish of the season is like catching up with your old friends, if you boiled your old friends in Cajun seasoning while they were still alive and ate them by the pound. Two pounds is like a light snack and five is too much, although I once saw a dude take out 13 by himself. I think he was in such a trance that he forgot he was eating. Or he was drunk. That’s something else that happens. I think you start drinking beer so you can’t look them in their beady little eyes.

 

Speaking of eyes, don’t touch yours for a few hours. You’ll mace yourself with your own fingers. And as crawfish boils progress, you’ll see guys peeing in the woods with their pants around their ankles. Draw your own conclusion there.

 

We take this so seriously that we have crawfish tables, which are big picnic tables with a hole in the middle for discarding crawfish carcasses directly into a trashcan. Super classy and practical, and could only be the brainchild of a true redneck genius.

 

If all of this skeeves you out — and let’s face it, it should — frozen crawfish tails are readily available at the grocery store. And while they taste like nothing (they’re kind of the absence of taste) it’s the perfect way to enjoy Crawfish Étouffée, which is a really fancy way of saying “a pile of white rice on some stew stuff.”

 

 

A traditional Southern crawfish boil***Emily Gatlin***

 

 

Crawfish Étouffée

Serves 4

 

 

Ingredients

 

2 tbsp butter

4 tbsp all-purpose flour

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 large onion, diced

1 green bell pepper, diced

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 lb crawfish tails (thawed, if frozen) + 1 1/2 cups water (in a separate bowl)

 

To taste:

Cayenne pepper

Black pepper

Salt

Garlic powder

 

Cooked rice (white or brown)

 

Directions

 

First, make your roux! This is easier than you’ve probably been lead to believe, but let it go too long and you’ll have to start all over. Pay attention.

 

Dutch ovens are great for this, but you can use a regular sauté  pan if you don’t have one. (Buy one immediately though. Trust the Southerner, here.) Melt the butter over medium-low heat, then slowly add the flour. Stir constantly in a figure eight motion, making sure you incorporate all of the flour. When you think you’ve stirred enough, you haven’t. Keep going for about eight minutes. You’ll want your roux to be tan with a nutty smell. Your arm should hurt at this point.

 

Once you’re happy and proud of yourself for achieving roux perfection, add your vegetables, or what’s called the “Cajun holy trinity”. When the onions are translucent, strain the water from the bowl of crawfish tails and add it to the vegetables. (We’re doing a seafood stock hack here.) Do not add the crawfish tails yet.

 

Add the spices and bring the Cajun holy trinity and water up to a boil. If you’re using thawed frozen crawfish tails, add more cayenne pepper than you think is necessary. If you’re using fresh crawfish tails that have been part of a bona fide boil, go easy on the salt. Bring it down to a simmer. The longer this sits on the stove, the better it is. Give it at least 30 minutes.

 

Close to when you’re ready to eat, add the crawfish tails.

 

Serve over a bed of rice — two scoops étouffée to one scoop rice should do it.

 

Pro tip: crusty French bread makes for a perfect vacuum to sop up extra goodness.

 

MORE: IN PRAISE OF OYSTERS