Gumbos, stews and pies — it’s crawfish time

Published 11:59 pm Friday, April 3, 2009

It is crawfish season and I am enjoying it! I like them anyway you prepare them especially in gumbos, stews, bisques, étouffées, stocks and even pies.

Crawfish resemble lobsters in many ways, but size is not one of them. The average length of a crawfish is only about 4 inches. Like the lobster, the crawfish is composed of a connecting head and thorax, or mid-section, and a segmented abdomen, or “tail.” The yellowish substance inside the head is the liver, more often called the “fat.”

Of the world’s 500-or-so crawfish species, more than half are found in North America, mainly in Louisiana and the Mississippi River basin. Nearly all of them live in fresh water, although a few survive in brackish or salt water, too.

From the bayous and estuaries along the Louisiana coast, crawfish are harvested as early as November and as late as June or July. The season is most bountiful in March, April and May. Farming crawfish has become a major industry in the state, with more than 115,000 acres devoted to producing them. The crawfish is also one of the state’s major export products.

Outside of south Louisiana and parts of coastal Texas and Mississippi, this shellfish is especially favored in France (where its essence flavors a traditional Nantua [a béchamel sauce made with crawfish]), Sweden (where it’s steamed whole with dill), and much of Asia.

Finding fresh crawfish outside of coastal Louisiana, and possibly coastal Texas, is difficult. In south Louisiana, fresh whole crawfish are sold either live (usually in burlap sacks) or boiled. Fresh, cooked crawfish are available in some markets as well.

Once store bought crawfish or crawfish tails are at home, store them in the coldest spot in your refrigerator and use a thermometer to keep the temperature below 40° F. It is best to use them in one, or two days at the latest, after they were bought, since you don’t know how long they were in the store or market.

Most people do not know how to eat a crawfish. A crawfish shell is much softer than that of a lobster or a crab, which makes removing the crawfish’s tail much safer and simpler.

The process involves pulling the tail from the body, stripping off its shell and pulling the tail meat out from the top of the shell while pinching the fan-shaped bottom end of the shell.

I do know that Hilltop in Gantt serves crawfish when in season. Go out to dinner and have a real treat or if you can find the crawfish:

This is a wonderful crawfish recipe. I did it with fresh crawfish, which I had never been able to find before. It was such a delightful dish that I am doing it again for my friends who are visiting this weekend.

Crawfish Étouffée

The recipe says for 2 servings but my husband and I had it for 3 meals.

¼ cup butter

5 tablespoons all-purpose flour

½ cup chopped celery

½ cup chopped green pepper

¼ cup chopped green onions

1 cup chicken broth

½ cup water

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 bay leaf

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

¼ teaspoon garlic powder (I used a clove of fresh garlic)

¼ teaspoon Creole seasoning

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 pound of Louisiana crawfish tail meat (thaw if frozen). (Note that Walmart crawfish are from China.)

hot cooked rice, as needed

In a heavy skillet or Dutch oven, melt the butter and then stir in the flour. Cook and stir constantly over low heat for about 20 minutes, until mixture is a caramel-colored paste. Add the celery, pepper and onions; stir until coated.

Add the broth, water, parsley, tomato paste, bay leaf, salt, pepper, garlic powder or fresh garlic, Creole seasoning, and cayenne. Stir the pot well to make sure that the roux is well incorporated and there are no lumps.

Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Add crawfish and heat through. Serve over rice.

I see crawfish used with macaroni and cheese in many magazines. Try this recipe.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese with Crawfish

Serves 2

½ pound elbow macaroni, cooked al dente

2 tablespoons butter

Nonstick cooking spray

½ pound cheese cut into small cubes (any mix of pepper jack, Gouda, sharp or mild cheddar, Colby Jack, etc.)

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

2 eggs, beaten

½ cup milk

1 cup cooked Louisiana crawfish tails, roughly chopped

Pre heat oven to 350º F. Cook the pasta to al dente, drain, and stir in the butter. Spray a baking dish with nonstick spray and add the pasta. Mix in the cheese, sugar, eggs, milk, and crawfish tails. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the macaroni is bubbly and the top is golden brown.

Smoked Duck, Sausage, and Crawfish Jambalaya

Makes 3 servings

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 cup chopped onions

½ cup chopped bell pepper

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

¼ cup chopped celery

¼ pound smoked sausage, sliced into ¼ -inch slices

4 smoked duck legs

4 bay leaves

1 teaspoon Creole seasoning blend

1 cup chopped tomatoes, peeled and seeded

1 cup white rice

2 cups chicken stock

½ pound Louisiana crawfish tails, cooked

½ chopped green onions

salt and pepper to taste

chopped parsley, to taste (optional)

In a large pot, heat the vegetable oil. When the oil is hot, add the onions, peppers, garlic and celery. Sauté for about 5-7 minutes, until the seasonings are soft. Add the sausage and sauté for 2-3 minutes, until slightly browned.

Add the duck legs, bay leaves, Creole seasoning, and tomatoes; cook until the duck legs begin to brown. Stir in the rice and cook 2 minutes. Add the stock and bring the mixture to a boil, reduce to a simmer. Cook covered for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the rice is tender and the liquid has been absorbed.

Stir in the crawfish tails, green onions, and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot, sprinkled with chopped parsley.