Posts Tagged ‘crawfish’

Peeling Louisiana crawfish

01-Breaking a crawfish apart Crawfish might look like little lobsters, but getting to the meat takes a whole different approach. For starters, a meal of lobster is one lobster. A meal of crawfish contains several dozen. Because they are smaller, the meat in the claws – let alone the legs – is of little consequence. The tail’s the thing. But crawfish, unlike lobster, don’t have a carapace anywhere near big enough to poke your finger through.

02-Crawfish fat When I attended Crawfish College and the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival, the first thing I had to learn about crawfish was how to get at those tails so I didn’t go hungry. Fortunately, there’s a time-honored technique that also yields a nice clean tail without the animal’s alimentary tract.

Start by grasping the crawfish with both hands – one on the tail, the other on the main body (as above). Now twist to separate the two sections. This brings you to the existential choice: To suck the heads or to throw them away and move on to the tails. Even some Cajuns think sucking the heads is disgusting. Others enjoy inhaling the briny essence of crawfish. Still others suggest that it depends on how much beer you’ve been drinking.

03-Pulling vein from crawfishThe separated tail will be dabbed with a murky yellow-green mess traditionally called “crawfish fat.” (See the image above on the left.) In fact, it is the liver and has an intense crawfish flavor. It is universally enjoyed. All fans of crawfish agree that when peeling the tails, you need to pinch at the base. As you draw the tail out of the shell, the pressure will capture the digestive tract and pull it out separately from the meat so it can be discarded. (See image on right)

Although the directions sound complicated, they become second nature when you sit down to a special crawfish eating table (below), with a deep well in the middle for boiled crawfish and a funnel to toss down the shells to the garbage can strategically situated below. The whole business goes much faster when accompanied by the spicy Saison d’écrévisses ale from the local Bayou Teche brewery.
04-Peeling table with beer

08

05 2013

What to eat at the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival

Cindy Harris of Houston TXWhen it comes to the food vendors at the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival, the food isn’t all crawfish, but to quote a good friend’s catch phrase, it’s all good. Well, most of it. I’d been given a big buildup from a couple of locals about Cajun pistols or pistolettes, which are buns stuffed with seafood and cheese and then deep-fried. As someone said, “they musta changed the recipe.”

Bon Creole Cindy Harris from Houston, Texas (above) opted for Giant Shrimp on a Stick from the same vendor selling Gator on a Stick (“tender and delicious”). In fairness, I tried the alligator on a stick and found it more tender than most alligator I’ve tried. And, no, it doesn’t taste like chicken. It tastes like alligator.

Food on a stick always does well at outdoor gatherings where few people can get a place to sit. In addition to the shrimp and gator, one vendor had the venerable corn dog (hot dog on a stick dipped in cornmeal batter and deep fried). More popular than all the meat on wooden sticks were the original meat on a stick: both frog’s legs (deep fried) and turkey legs (grilled over charcoal).

Boiled crawfish Having sampled many of the offerings, I will venture the opinion that the best tasting and probably healthiest options were some of the classics: crawfish etouffée on rice, jambalya, and seafood gumbo. (As the T-shirt says, “All creatures great and small taste better in gumbo.”) But this being the Crawfish Festival, my vote goes to the plates of boiled crawfish. (Watch for a future post on the technique for peeling boiled crawfish.)

Growing crawfish in ponds produces them by the ton

Crawfish Clay's pond To begin understanding crawfish, it’s worth starting with the culture and harvest. A lot of the Cajun country crawfish business involves growing them in ”ponds” – really flooded depressions fed with bayou water and held in place with an earthen levee. We went to visit Mike Clay’s pond, where he’s been growing and (after a fashion) breeding crawfish since 1985. Shown above is Mike’s pond, with crawfisherman Robbie Guidry getting ready to make a harvest.

Crawfish Mike ClayIncidentally, Mike, shown here, is also the 2013 Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival king. Crawfish from his pond have also won the festival’s crawfish races for the last dozen years or so. From every haul, Mike selects a few fast movers for training, which is why he has crawfish crawling around on his rubber gloves, as shown below. Crawfish Mike's racers

Crawfishing is deceptively simple. A crawfish trap is a funnel-shaped wire mesh basket into which the fisherman throws bait – in this case half a small fish. Like lobsters, crawfish are scavengers and they will crawl into the trap to feed on the bait, only to find they can’t crawl out. On Clay’s pond the traps are set on twin posts. The fisherman places a trap on a blank post, then hauls the trap on the adjacent post and dumps the crawfish either into buckets or a sorting table. Here’s a photo of Robbie holding up a trap with a few dozen crawfish inside. Crawfish Robbie pulls trap

It’s a monotonous task, but the crawfish pile up quickly. On the sorting table they are cleaned of debris (including the fish bones from the bait) and scooted into sacks that end up weighing 35-40 pounds. The sacks are then covered with wet burlap to keep the crawfish cool through evaporation.

Once they are delivered to a processor, that operation will wash the crawfish with clean fresh water before boiling them for a carefully controlled time and then chilling the cooked crustaceans. Here at CJ Seafood, they then peel the chilled crawfish and package the tail meat in vacuum bags for sale. Like the fishing, peeling is monotonous, but the crawfish peelers who do it work swiftly. For what it’s worth, the staff at CJ Seafood pack about 16,000 pounds (that’s eight tons) of crawfish meat a day. Crawfish peeling

02

05 2013

Off to Crawfish College in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Crawfish dance
Breaux Bridge, Louisiana’s annual Crawfish Festival pretty much celebrates everything that is great about Acadian culture, from the mud bugs to the music to the Cajun proclivity for a darned good party. The heart of the festival, of course, is the mass consumption of crawfish farmed and wild-caught in St. Martin’s Parish. This year the organizers put a little twist on the festivities by offering a crash course for those of us who did not grow up on intimate terms with the Bayou Teche and the Atchafalaya Basin. They call it Crawfish College — a little introduction to the world of Cajun country’s signature crustacean. Over the next few days HungryTravelers will be hitting some of the course highlights.

The photo above, taken last night at Pont Breaux’s Cajun Restaurant (325 Mills Ave., Breaux Bridge, LA, 337-332-4648, www.pontbreauxscajunrestaurant.com), might explain the appeal. When crawfish are in season (March into June), people eat a lot of them – and then dance the calories away to the accordion, fiddle, and guitar of a Cajun band.

Crawfish Randy Leblanc Randy LeBlanc, the gentleman holding a platter of boiled crawfish, owns Pont Breaux’s, and he is an aficionado of all matter Cajun, most notably music and food. The restaurant has a live band every night and also prepares some other terrific seafood. My favorite (non-crawfish) dish might be the shrimp and oyster brochette, which consists of a good-sized prawn and a fat oyster wrapped in a piece of bacon and deep-fried. It’s served with a stuffed potato, jambalaya, and bread.

Crawfish eatersThe all-you-can eat crawfish boil is exactly what it sounds like. I watched one old boy (a disk jockey at the Cajun-Zydeco-Swamp Music radio station KBON, 101.1FM) devour three entire platters of boiled crawfish. Most folks, like those shown here, had enough to handle just eating one.

All in all, lots of crawfish and Cajun music made a perfect overture to Crawfish College. You have to eat ’em before you study ’em.

01

05 2013