Ingredient of the Week: Crawfish

IMG - Crawfish Company.jpg
Photo by John Suh
You say crayfish, I say crawfish.
Wave goodbye to Fat Tuesday. Say hello to Lent, the 40 days (excluding Sundays) leading up to Easter. Lent is a time when many strive for a deepened spiritual faith by fasting. Many Catholics observe meatless Fridays (hence the noticeable rise in McDonald's Filet-O-Fish commercials during Lenten seasons past).

But meatless Fridays don't have to mean blegh Fridays. We're on the cusp of crawfish season, and while there are plenty of crawfish joints around town, they do get super-busy. Come Fridays, all the crawfish restaurants are packed with people waiting more than an hour just to eat. Bit you can point at them, laugh, and then go home and whip up a pot of the mudbugs yourself. Who said your tastebuds have to be miserable during Lent?

What is it?

Whether you call them crawdads, crayfish, mudbugs, or crawfish will depend on where you're from. They're essentially all in the same crustacean super-family, thriving in fresh water and resembling cute little lobsters. Here in the deep south, we call them crawfish.

How do I use it?

Like many of the other edible crustaceans, only part of the crawfish is eaten. In bisques and étouffées, only the tails are used. At crawfish boils, however, the live crawfish -- shell and all -- go into a large pot with lots of seasoning including garlic, lemon, cayenne pepper, salt, and bay leaves. Red potatoes, corn on the cob, sausages, and mushrooms are usually cooked in the pot as well. All the contents are then dumped onto the table's center, where everyone grabs and eats: snap the body in half, suck the head to taste all the spices, and pinch the tail to pull the meat out. Crawfish is often cooked with enough spices that you can eat the tail meat alone, but for extra flavor, try dipping in various concoctions like Sriracha and mayo or salt, pepper, and lemon juice.

Where can I find it?

Louisiana supplies 98 percent of the crawfish found in the U.S., harvesting tens of thousands of tons each year. Some Louisianan crawfish farms will deliver right to your doorstep for a hefty fee. During crawfish season, live crawfish can be found at seafood shops or in the seafood section of grocery stores. The season begins in January, peaks from March through May, and dwindles by June. This is when you'll get your largest and tastiest crawfish. During the other months, the crawfish shells are harder and thus more difficult to peel. Despite the existence of crawfish farms, there is still a set crawfish season: the mudbugs are harvested in the spring, the ponds drained and replanted in the summer, and then re-flooded in the fall and winter.

Recipes

Crawfish Boil
For a traditional Louisiana crawfish boil, you'll need a huge pot, an outdoor propane burner, lots of friends and family, lots of beer, and most importantly, lots of crawfish. Pour the cooked goods down the middle of a long table and let everyone grab and eat. The fun of a crawfish boil is in the community it brings together. Get down and dirty with your neighbors.

Crawfish Étouffée
Pronounced [eh-too-FAY], étouffée is a dish from southern Louisiana consisting of shellfish (in this case using Emeril's recipe, crawfish) cooked in a gravy with rice. The word is derived from the French and translates as "to smother" -- that is, to simmer the food in a small amount of liquid in order to create a gravy sauce. Any crawfish left over from a boil is peeled, and the tails are saved for this very dish.

What do you do with your crawfish?



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