May 20, 2009

Crawfish. Crawdads. Mudbugs. Bait.

Whatever you want to call them (except crayfish, don't call them that...I don't care what spellchecker says), that's what I ate for Mother's Day (and the day before Mother's Day too).

A face only a mother could love. Or a Cajun.

The story goes something like this...
When the British exiled the Acadians from Nova Scotia in 1755, lobsters decided to follow. The trip from Acadie to South Louisiana was a long and tiring one. All that travelling wore on the lobsters, who wasted away getting smaller and smaller as the journey dragged on. By the time they made it to LA, they were no longer lobsters, but the smaller crawfish.

It seems people automatically link Cajuns and crawfish together. But, as I've been reading in Stir the Pot: The History of Cajun Cuisine by Marcelle Bienvenu and Carl and Ryan Brasseaux, this wasn't always so. And this is information that surprised me since people go absolutely insane when it's crawfish season around here. Apparently, Cajuns didn't start eating crawfish with a passion until the 1950s. Before then, it would have been an embarrassment to be seen eating crawfish. It was something that was eaten in lean times when that was all you could scrape up. Now I sometimes think it's all we eat! If you have a crawfish boil or make an etouffee, the whole neighborhood is jealous.

Crawfish can be cooked in a number of ways...Crawfish Pie, Fried Crawfish Tails, Crawfish Alfredeaux (not Alfredo!), Crawfish Maque Chou, Crawfish Bisque, Crawfish Cornbread, and of course there are Crawfish Boils. But Crawfish Etouffee (Ay-too-fay), I think, may be the most popular way to eat crawfish. It's the meal of choice for many families during Lent. It's found on the menus of just about every Cajun restaurant. It can be ordered from food booths at more than just the Crawfish Festival or the Crawfish Etouffee Cookoff. The stuff is everywhere.

Like gumbo, there are as many recipes for Crawfish Etouffee as there are cooks. Some use roux, others don't. Heck, my Mother-in-law makes a version of Crawfish Etouffee that utilizes cream of mushroom soup. I prefer the real deal and I prefer roux to be involved. I've said it before...I look for any excuse to make a roux.

The French word "etouffee" means "smother." Other etouffees exist besides crawfish: shrimp, chicken, sausage, alligator, frog leg, and so on. Etouffees, no matter what they are made of, are served over (what else) cooked white rice.

What is crawfish etouffee? Crawfish are smothered, or "cooked down," in a mixture of vegetables and sauce. Poor little things! Have you ever met a creature so tortured? We smother them, pinch their tails, and suck their heads!

Here's my family's version of Crawfish Etouffee. Oh, and I would be strung high if I didn't add this: COOK WITH LOUISIANA CRAWFISH!

Crawfish Etouffee
from Ms. enPlace

1 stick butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb crawfish tails, fat included
¼ c water
salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper for seasoning
cooked white rice for serving
chopped green onion tops for garnish (optional)

*note: if crawfish are lean (no or very little fat included) add an additional 1/4 stick butter)

Make a roux by melting the butter and adding flour to it. Add enough flour to absorb the butter. Cook the roux, constantly stirring, until it is the color of caramel. Add onion, bell pepper and garlic to the roux and saute until tender. Add crawfish and fat. Add water and additional butter if crawfish are lean. Season to taste with salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper. Cover and simmer for 15 min. Uncover and simmer for about another 15 minutes. Serve over cooked rice. Garnish with green onion if desired.

Linked with 

Memories by the Mile

Like most Cajun dishes, the ingredients are simple.

While you chop the onions, bell pepper, and garlic, melt the butter.

Sprinkle in enough flour to absorb the liquid from the melted butter.

Make a roux with this mixture by cooking, stirring (or scraping) constantly. I think this is the first time I've featured a recipe with butter as the source of fat in a roux. Usually I use oil, but in an etouffee I like the flavor and richness butter gives. I think it mixes well with the crawfish fat.
Continue cooking and scraping the roux until it is the color of caramel (or darker if you want). Look here to see the whole shebang.
Add the vegetables to the roux, except for the green onions. Cook in the roux until tender.

Add the crawfish and their fat to the pot, along with the water. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper or whatever else you're the one who has to eat it.

If your crawfish don't have fat, add additional butter. Why do I keep mentioning crawfish fat? That's where the flavor is. Look, I never promised this was healthy.

Oh, you may want to pick through the crawfish before adding them to the pot in case there are any shells, legs, or antennae. Yum yum.

Cover the pot and simmer for about 15 minutes. Uncover and simmer on low for another 15 minutes. This is when ya cook da rice...and don't be puttin' this over brown rice. You've already committed to all the butter and crawfish fat, no sense in wimping out now.

Serve over cooked rice. Top with green onions. I'm about to lose-ma-mind it looks so good!


  1. I just found your blog today! I love it!!! Thanks for explaining crawfish to the readers not from the south. We are having a crawfish boil on Saturday and CAN NOT WAIT!!

  2. Marcia6/10/2009

    Mmmmhhh, this looks great!! Just found your blog while surfing the BabyCenter site... I like it, and all the pictures that you include help a lot!!!
    Thanks, Marcia

  3. Thank you Michelle for sharing at Tuesday Trivia. I am featuring you on today's post. See you week.
    Wanda Ann @ Memories by the Mile


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