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gone crawfishing

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By Jen White · April 18, 2010 · 0 Comments ·

Crawfish has two usages as a verb in Webster's: one is to catch crawfish, and another is to back out of something you've committed to. But I'm proposing a third definition: to crawfish is to celebrate the deliciousness of the little creatures by churning out as many recipes as you can in one weekend and stuffing yourself full of their glory. And with that definition in place, I can honestly say I have been doing a lot of crawfishing lately.

Our craw-odyssey began on Friday evening with a shellfish stock to use in some of the recipes (and a lot leftover to freeze). Well, actually, it began on Friday afternoon, snacking on crawfish tails and crabmeat pulled from the shells we were using for the stock--one of the rewards of making a stock with the shells of already-cooked sea-things.
For the stock, we took the extra step of roasting the picked shells. Here they are in the roasting pan:

Pretty, huh? They only need about 30 minutes in a 375-oven to intensify and deepen their flavor somewhat. Any longer than that would risk burning the shell and bits of meat still inside, turning them bitter.



I love the way this stock looks. There just isn't a prettier stock than one involving crawfish. Of course, the finished product looks boring and brown, just like a rich chicken stock, but at this point--when the herbs and lemon have just been added and all the little guys are just soaking in the tub, getting to know each other--it's a kaleidoscope of color.

Later that night came Crawfish Etouffee, that iconic Lousiana stew of seafood and vegetables, with a little tomato, served over rice. The above photo shows a step we like to take when making these types of stews (like sauce piquant or jambalaya)--pincé. To pincé (pronounce it "pens'-say") is to add tomato paste and a pinch of sugar when the sauteed vegetables are nearly dry, then stirring and cooking that tomato paste until it deepens in color and intensity--literally just before the sugars scorch. This technique baffled me when I first heard about it, but I have tasted the difference between adding tomatoes to a dish and pincéing tomato paste, and I fully support the pincé camp. Picture adding a can of diced tomatoes with juice, as the original recipe called for--the tomatoes are soft and juicy, and the juice immediately mingles with the other veggies and takes on some of their flavors. But when you add paste, which is thick and somewhat solid, and then refuse to feed the pot with liquid until it's almost completely dry, the paste turns in on itself for moisture and caramelizes, shrinking and condensing even further--thus giving the dish a deep, sweet, tomatoey flavor. You end up with more tomato flavor from less tomato. As you can see, the etouffee turned out rich, red, and creamy, and chock-full of sweet crawfish tails.
The next day there was an incredibly scrumptious Seafood Dip (photo at bottom of post), using up some of the leftover crawfish, crab, and shrimp from the picked shells. Below is a photo of the vegetables and andouille sauteeing and flavoring-up on the stove. Dip made with cream cheese and sour cream is something I make only once or twice a year, usually for parties. But we had all the right bits of seafood and veggies lying around, so...why not?
Finally, on Sunday, I made crawfish pies (pictured at the top of the post), crusted with a delicate cornmeal dough that exfoliates and moisturizes your hands as you mix it (butter + cornmeal = tasty hand scrub!). These didn't taste exactly like a Natchitoches crawfish pie--the filling is more herbal and citrusy, and the pastry is far more delicate (for example, you couldn't drive a bass boat and eat one out of your left hand at the same time). Also, I baked them instead of frying, and I'm so glad I did. That pastry is rich, ya'll--rich. It's got a wonderful buttery flavor and a slight crunch and sweetness from the cornmeal, which is something I adore. In fact, I believe it would be the perfect pastry for a plum or nectarine pie. Gotta get to work on that one.
If you don't have live or freshly boiled crawfish in your area, don't worry. The stock can be made with shrimp and crab shells, or just shrimp shells, and the shrimp can be the raw frozen kind you get in Durant, Oklahoma. The stock won't be the same, but it'll be your own homemade shell stock, and that's a good thing. For the rest of the recipes, it's certainly fine to use pre-shelled, pre-cooked crawfish tails that come in one-pound bags--but note that they must be Louisiana crawfish tails. Look on the bag, it will tell you where they're from. If the bag says they're from China, shake your head and toss that bag back in the bin. If the bag says they're from Louisiana, put them in your cart and maybe wince at the price difference but GET OVER IT. Crawfish from China are antibioticized, flavorless, chewy fluff you wouldn't bait a possum trap with--trust me on this one.
Shellfish Stock (adapted from Hooks, Lies, & Alibis)
  • 1 pound each crab, shrimp and crawfish shells (we used way more crawfish shells than the other critters) (you can ask your seafood supplier to set these aside for you instead of buying them with meat inside, if you don't want an awesome lunch while you're peelin')
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 carrots, sliced
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 4 sprigs parsley
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 6 whole black peppercorns
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • 1 gallon cold water
  • 2 cups dry white wine


    1. Optional first step: Place the shells in a roasting pan and bake at 375 for 30 minutes, stirring once or twice.
    2. In a large stockpot over medium-high heat, combine all ingredients and bring to a rolling boil. Reduce heat to simmer, cover, and cook 45 minutes or until liquid is reduced slightly. During cooking process, skim off all impurities that rise to the surface and discard. Add additional water if necessary.
    3. Strain stock through a colander over a large bowl to get the shells and vegetables out. Pour strained stock from bowl back into the stock pot.
    4. Strain stock through a cheesecloth-lined colander or very tight sieve to remove smaller bits of shell and vegetables and debris.
    5. Cool, portion into rigid containers, and freeze up to a month.
    6. You're not done!! Double-bag your trash with the shells in it. Close it up tightly and take it outside to the trash bin. Cover the trash bin. When it's trash day, make sure you get that bin out there in time. If your cooking partner says you can wait until tomorrow, don't you believe it. Fresh seafood shells smell great. Old seafood shells smell like hades.


    Makes approximately 2 1/2 quarts.
    Crawfish Etouffee (adapted from www.emerils.com)
    • 6 T. butter
    • 4 T. flour
    • 2 cups chopped onions
    • 1/2 cup chopped celery
    • 1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
    • 6 cloves garlic, minced
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
    • 2 T. tomato paste
    • pinch white sugar
    • 2 1/2 cups stock (shellfish, fish, shrimp, or chicken (if you must))
    • 1 1/2 t. salt
    • 1/2 t. crushed red pepper flakes
    • tabasco to taste
    • 2 t. Worcestershire sauce
    • 2 pounds crawfish tails, with the fat
    • juice of half a lemon
    • 1 cup chopped green onions
    • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
    • cooked white rice for serving


    1. In a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter and whisk in flour to combine well. Continue to cook this roux, stirring constantly, until it's the color of peanut butter (you might need to lower the heat a bit to keep it from scorching).
    2. Add onions, celery, bell pepper, garlic, bay leaves and thyme and cook until vegetables are soft, about 6 to 8 minutes.
    3. Add tomato paste and a pinch of sugar and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 to 7 minutes, until tomato paste is a deeper rust in color, but not brown. The mixture will be dry. If it smells like it's on the verge of burning, pour the stock in.
    4. Add stock, salt, red pepper, Tabasco, and Worcestershire and bring to a boil. Skim surface, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
    5. Add crawfish tails and their fat, lemon juice, green onions, and parsley and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
    6. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary (probably will need to add more salt). Serve over hot rice.


    8 servings
    • 2 T. butter
    • 3 green onions (scallions), sliced
    • 1 stalk celery, minced
    • 1/2 of a large red bell pepper, minced
    • 1 clove garlic, minced
    • 2 T. andouille sausage, minced (or any other flavorful pork--ham, cooked bacon, tasso, etc.)
    • 2 t. hot chili, minced (we used a small Italian chili pepper jarred in olive oil; jalapeno would work, or any other hot chili you like)
    • 2 cups finely chopped cooked crawfish tails, shrimp, and crab in any ratio you like, or a single one of these
    • 1 t. lemon zest
    • black pepper, white pepper, and cayenne pepper (the pepper-fecta)
    • few dashes Worcestershire sauce
    • few dashes Tabasco
    • 4 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
    • 1/4 to 1/2 c. mayonnaise
    • 1/2 c. sour cream
    1. Melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add green onions, celery, red bell pepper, garlic, andouille, and hot chili and saute for about 5 minutes, until vegetables soften and andouille shrinks and browns.
    2. Turn heat to low and add seafood, stirring to combine everything and meld the flavors. Add lemon zest, black, white and red peppers to taste, Worcestershire, and Tabasco. Taste, and if the mixture needs salt, add some. Adjust the seasonings, keeping in mind that the dairy products will soften the heat of the various peppers and have a slight dulling effect on the saltiness.
    3. Place seafood mixture in a medium bowl and allow to cool to room temperature. Add cream cheese, mayonnaise, and sour cream to mixture, blending with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Taste and adjust seasoning.


    Makes about 3 cups. I recommend chilling it in the fridge for a couple of hours to let the flavors develop a little more, but it's so good that you might want to ignore that suggestion and just eat it, standing, in the kitchen. Serve it with some sturdy wheat crackers.
    Crawfish Pies (from Crescent City Cooking)
    Cornmeal Pie Crust
    • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 3/4 cup cornmeal
    • 1 T. sugar
    • 1 1/4 t. salt
    • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) plus 1 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into small dice (I stick mine in the freezer for several minutes after I cut them, so they'll be good and cold)
    • 1/4 cup ice water
    • 3/8 cup sour cream (I think a 1/2 cup is fine, and easier than this fraction. My dough ended up needing more water, anyway, so more moisture from sour cream would be fine.)
    • 1 egg, beaten, for egg wash


    1. Place flour, cornmeal, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine. Add butter and pulse into the dry mix just until coarse pebbles of butter form.
    2. Transfer mixture to a large bowl. By hand, gradually work in the sour cream and ice water. The dough should be soft and pliable but not sticky. Adjust as necessary with flour and water.
    3. Chill the dough at least 30 minutes (or up to a day in advance).


    Crawfish Filling
    • 1 T. olive oil
    • 1 T. butter
    • 1/2 medium onion, diced
    • 1 celery stalk, diced
    • 1 small green or red bell pepper, diced
    • 1/2 fennel bulb, diced (optional: we used about 9 button mushrooms, chopped, instead)
    • 1 garlic clove, minced
    • 3 green onions, sliced thin
    • 3 T. chopped fresh parsley
    • 2 T. flour
    • 3/4 cup stock (shellfish, seafood, vegetable, or chicken; or 1/2 cup stock and 1/4 cup milk or cream)
    • zest and juice of 1 medium lemon
    • 1/2 t. Worcestershire sauce
    • 1 pound cooked and peeled crawfish tails, coarsely chopped
    • salt and pepper to taste
    • hot sauce to taste


    1. Heat oil and butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, celery, bell pepper, and fennel, and saute for about 5 minutes, until softened.
    2. Add the garlic, green onions, and parsley and cook for 2-3 minutes more.
    3. Sprinkle the vegetables with flour and stir. Whisk in the stock, lemon zest and lemon juice, and Worcestershire.
    4. Add crawfish and simmer for a few minutes, until crawfish is warm. Adjust seasonings with salt, pepper, and hot sauce.
    5. Cool to room temperature or refrigerate until ready to make pies.
    6. When ready to bake pies, preheat oven to 350 and line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper. Separate dough into 8 portions. On a well-floured surface, roll each out into a 6-inch round, about 1/8" thick (I am no pastry wizard, so I trimmed the rolled-out doughs into circles with a knife). Place 2 to 3 tablespoons of filling on one half, fold the other side over the top, and crimp the edges together with a floured fork.
    7. Brush each pie lightly with egg wash, and bake at 350 until golden, about 25-30 minutes. Cool completely on wire racks.


    Makes 8 large individual turnovers.


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