The Crawfish Diaries (Part 1)

Written by Mary Ann Fitzmorris April 14, 2021 10:53 in Dining Diary

Any time I think of crawfish bisque, the first thing that comes to mind is a Cold War between my mother and her in-laws. I don’t remember how old I was, but all these years later it is still inseparable from any thought of crawfish. And now that I have tried to stuff crawfish heads, my mother’s pique is more understandable. 

To encapsulate: my dad’s brother and his wife were visiting from Ohio, and my mom planned to have them over for crawfish bisque. My mother spent a day stuffing crawfish heads, only to have them cancel at the last minute, or not. Maybe they were just no shows.

Now that I have stuffed a few heads, I am left with the following questions: 1) Why would anyone volunteer to stuff crawfish heads?, and 2) Why would anyone volunteer to unstuff crawfish heads? Both, it seems, are unnecessarily messy and time consuming tasks.

Perhaps it was a search to solve this family mystery from so long ago, or just the omnipresence of crawfish right now, but I was recently struck with the urge to get into the crawfish game.

It began innocently last week, when Tom and I found ourselves at lunch outside at Cafe Lynn in Mandeville. Alfresco dining at Cafe Lynn means you are in the parking lot, which gave me the opportunity to notice a line snaking through the parking lot and out onto the highway. Such lines now always end at drive-thru food. It turned out to be a line for Drive-Thru Crawfish, and it was $2 Tuesday, hence the long lines. 

The idea of driving through for crawfish has intrigued me since the first time I saw Bayou Boil N’ Geaux crawfish in Covington. I chuckled at the idea and gave them no chance of survival. Three years later they thrive, and have spawned imitators, proving my lack of interest in this local crustacean is not the norm. 

I watched the cars throughout lunch, and got into the line myself to see what this was about. When I got to the window I could choose medium or large, judging by the two critters on the drive thru window ledge. I chose medium, and left with 5 pounds of crawfish with no extras.

When I arrived home I picked the crawfish for at least 30 minutes and came away with only 2 cups of meat. No snacking involved. This to me is the equivalent of waiting in line for 3 hours at Disneyworld for a 2 minute ride.

Eating crawfish is a social endeavor. Sit with your friends and beers and pick, eat, and chat. 

But I had been drawn into the crawfish phenom, and I vowed to make crawfish bisque and a crawfish dip. All the shells that had been picked went into a pot of water to make stock. There were too many shells for the pot, so I was unaware the stock had evaporated until I could smell burning. 

I had two cups of crawfish meat and big ideas, so I was now forced to get more crawfish. This time I got 2 pounds from Mandeville Seafood. These were larger than the “medium” ones at Drive Thru Crawfish, which were really small. Mandeville Seafood’s crawfish were large and every bit as spicy good. 

From this haul I got another cup of meat and more shells for stock. A caller to the radio show advised me that half an hour with crustacean shells is all that is needed to make stock.

I made one more stop at the original drive thru place and got one pound with no extras. The going rate for crawfish with no extras seems to average $3.50/lb. These were very large and much too mild in flavor. Together with the other much spicier acquisitions, there was plenty enough flavor and spice for my crawfish experiments.

As I have stated so many times before, I am a simple cook. When it was time to make things with this crawfish meat I assembled only a few ingredients:

Yellow onion, red and green bell pepper, celery, and parsley, as well as breadcrumbs and one egg. Also cream.

I strained the stock and added the cream, reducing this liquid by simmering it.

In a separate large skillet, I heated 2 Tbs butter and the following vegetables chopped finely. 

¾  large yellow onion

½ large red bell pepper

½ medium green bell pepper

3 stalks celery

A small handful of chopped fresh parsley

3-4 cups crawfish tail meat chopped finely

I always cook on high heat because it makes a sear, which I scrape as caramelized vegetables, but this needs to be monitored. When it gets iffy, I spoon some stock from the reducing pot to deglaze the pan and keep things simmering.

When all of this was cooked together, vegetables soft, I separated the contents of the pan into ⅓ for the hot dip, and ⅔ for the crawfish boulettes. 

NOTE: This amount made a half cup of dip and about 13 boulettes. 

With the ⅓ mixture in the pan, I added ¼ cup of cream to moisten it and further deglaze the pan. Then I added ¼ cup cream cheese, and the same amount of sour cream.

With the spice level and salt level from a normal boil, this needs nothing, to me, anyway. Enhance as you wish.

I sliced up some flour tortillas and dropped them into hot oil, and I sliced some Italian bread and made crostini as dippers for this hot crawfish dip. The bread was sliced very thin and I brushed on melted butter and cracked pepper.

This dip had what we joke about in this house as pimiento cheese syndrome. When something is insanely delish to the chef, there is usually little left for the guests.

The ⅔ remainder of this mixture was the basis for the stuffing. I added half a cup of the Dorignac’s St. Joseph homemade breadcrumbs, and an egg. I mixed this together and formed small balls that were rolled in breadcrumbs. Make sure there is enough breadcrumbs to hold these together in the hot oil. I drop them in for maybe a minute, and remove. These delectable boulettes can be used as an appetizer with remoulade sauce for dipping, or dropped into crawfish bisque.

I also used this mixture for stuffing crawfish heads. And I used a little to put back into the crawfish bisque, which was comprised of only the strained crawfish stock in a ratio of 5-6 cups stock to one pint of cream.

Since I did not make a roux the soup was light, in the French style, too light to hold up a boulette. I used a thin crostini and chopped a boulette on top. The crostini allowed it to float longer, and then withered into the soup. The crawfish heads floated a bit before dropping into the soup.

Now that I have unstuffed a crawfish head, the mystery of what happened in my family so long ago has been solved. My uncle and his wife did not come to dinner that night at our house because no one wanted to dig the meat out of those crawfish heads. What a mess!