Sunday, April 14, 2013

Spicy Crawfish Boil & Creamy Crawfish Etouffée...or in Cajun speak... "Poo-yie!"

Steamy Crawfish spiced with Cayenne Pepper, Corn, Potatoes, and Onions


It's "crawfish season" in the south.  Since returning to the south, it's one of the culinary events that tugs at my cajun roots ...the indulgence of all things made with crawfish.

I grew up having no idea that others in this wide world would view this crustacean-eating tradition with disdain and certainly had no idea that there is often a reaction of ...disgust.

I was blissfully unaware most of my life of anything amiss or curious about boiling, cracking, and peeling crawfish.  I didn't look at them and wrinkle my nose or pinch my face in horror.  Everyone ate crawfish.  It was like going out for a burger.  And, for goodness sake, it's like eating  tiny lobsters.

If there was a crawfish boil underway, I could only think of lowering my face in the  billowing steam whistling out from the boiling tub of crawfish and deeply breathing in the spicy aromas in anticipation of the succulent feast ahead.


The "Holy Trinity" of Creole cooking-onions, celery, and peppers



It wasn't until my husband and I moved to Texas a few years ago with our two teenage children that I realized my culinary childhood experiences were looked upon with circumspect by...well pretty much everyone outside the south.  But, it was my own children's reaction that caught me most by surprise!

Crawfish, poboys, étouffées, gumbo, crack'lins...were all foreign experiences for my children.  They knew nothing of my childhood diet, as they were raised mainly in Michigan and New York.  




Somehow, my mid-western husband had no trouble tucking into a huge platter of steaming spicy crawfish.  He snapped off the tails, deftly peeled off the meat and with a large cold beer at hand uttered the words "Pooyie" with no trouble.

My kids, on the other hand, sat in a stupor of horror watching us turn into head sucking, tail cracking, claw nibbling...bug eating loons.










Never mind we lived in Japan where fried grasshoppers were laid out at the market as samples, octopus flavored chips were their favorite, and several times we dined on squid "in its own ink".

Planting these kids in front of a tray of boiled steaming crawfish bodies "crossed the line".  From their perspective, this was disgusting fare.  

From the pointy little claws sticking up in the air to the cracking sounds from snapping the tails from the bodies, to the piled up mess of juices left all over the table to be soaked up by piles of newspaper tablecloths...they were not impressed.  



Scenes from the Japan Festival in Houston, Texas


However, somewhere in those genes, the cajun taste buds have ignited over the past 3 years living in the south.  From gumbo, to oyster poboys, to boudin...they've come around nicely.

Now, the knowledge that it is crawfish season in the south emits happy whoops of "Pooyie"!  

Crawfish was boiling away at the farmer's market this weekend as well as in the entryways to many stores here in Houston.  The steamy, heady, spicy aroma is so tantalizing, I fell right into the "good eats" of the season over the weekend.





I brought home pounds of boiled crawfish and decided to make a "crawfish étouffée" for a purely indulgent weekend treat.

I do appreciate and understand the stories behind the origins of so many cajun and creole dishes as I recreate these recipes in my kitchen.  The history is rich, diverse, interwoven with the pain, sweat, and tears of so many cultures who landed in the swampy, buggy, humid south, and had to call this unforgiving new land...home.





Louisiana was settled by the French, ruled over for awhile by the Spanish, but was also home to arrivals from West Africa, the Canary Islands, and the Caribbean.  The French fare of rich sauces and meats is at the heart of many dishes but the addition of green peppers comes from the Spanish, tomatoes from the Sicilians, sassafras from the Native Americans, okra from Africa, and cayenne pepper from the Caribbean.  These ingredients comprise the more urban city dwelling dishes often found in New Orleans and are often labeled "creole".

Crawfish étouffée is a creamy stew that exemplifies the beauty of a creole dish and is cooked with ingredients like tomatoes, paprika, and cream.






After coming home from the market with bags full of crawfish, Patrick and I enjoyed the boiled spicy crawfish and happily cracked, peeled, and piled our empty crawfish shells on the side.

For the "other half of the family",  I stirred together a simmering pan of étouffée with the crawfish meat, tomatoes, butter, onions, bell pepper, and spices.  A spoon of cooked rice and a scattering of crushed sassafras (or filé as it is called down here) completes the dish.

My son tasted one bite, rolled his eyes with pleasure and pronounced the dish the best "Cajun Curry" he's every tasted.

Sigh...






So Crawfish season is underway down here in the south.  April is a month of festival craziness.  The weather is humidity-free, mosquito-free, and everyone is out and about festival hopping from one weekend to the next.

I swung by the "Japan Festival" here in Houston over the weekend.  Hundreds of people were enjoying Japanese arts, food, and crafts.  I thought the cups of edamame beans were a treat as well as the sight of bright cheerful Japanese umbrellas that dotted the crowds.






But some entertainment delights aren't on a grand scale.  A sweet scene unfolded before us, however, as we were dining at our favorite Mexican restaurant recently.  We were eating al fresco and this family of ducklings kept swimming up and down the lake in front of us.  





Mother Duck was carefully watching out for them as they paddled their tiny little webbed feet furiously to keep up with her pace.  What a sight...and it made our day out all the more enjoyable.

So the weekend has ended.  Festival hopping will continue...as there are more scribbled on the calendar.  It's a wonderful time of the year to be out and about...but with heat and humidity  on the horizon...we all know to appreciate these days to the utmost.  










40 comments:

  1. You are such a gifted photographer, Sarah---you always bring a smile to my face! I would love to make this ettouffe...I just have to get my hands on some crawfish!!

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    1. Sue, unfortunately crawfish has become so expensive these days. I was shocked how much the already peeled tails were down here in Houston. These were considered cheap food when I grew up...the opposite of fine dining for sure.

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  2. What a wonderful post! That dish looks and sounds mighty delicious. I'd love to visit Louisiana.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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    1. Rosa, thank you. Coming from the breath taking beauty of Switzerland, Louisiana would be an interesting trip for sure! We were in Switzerland 2 years ago and I've never seen a country more beautiful!

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  3. Well I can safely say that I'm not one of those people that would screw up my face over snapping into a pile of boiled crawfish. My brother and I occasionally went out as teenagers to local creeks to catch crawfish to bring home to boil up and eat. We were always very proud when we came across the bright blue ones. Freshly-caught mud crabs are another crustacean I can comfortably get messy with. Snapping limbs and sucking away!
    Sarah, this is one dish I'll be trying for sure. I won't find Louisiana hot sauce in Sydney, I'm sure, but I'm sure Google will provide me a recipe that's close.

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    1. John, I've seen your menu choices and you would fit right in down here. Boudin festivals, crawfish festivals, gumbo festivals...they all would cater to you just perfectly!

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  4. These pictures are too delicious. It's hardly possible to get a nice, fresh crawfish where I'm in right now. What a pity.

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    1. Marta, I feel the same way about "rhubarb" and "chestnuts". I see other bloggers featuring them and I begin to drool! We don't have either in abundance...they are considered specialty items here.

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  5. Your photography is amazing…it’s hard to focus on anything else!! However, the crawfish étouffée looks incredible! I’ve only had a crawfish boil twice…the first time I felt the way your kids did…it was hard to get past their beady little eyes looking up at me!

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    1. It is a trepidation that hits me when I first see a pile of crawfish. But, somehow, after that first juicy spicy crawfish tail...I seem to lose all inhibitions!

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  6. I want to dive into your photos, they are so stunning! I absolutely love these shots and the Etouffee looks delicious! Beautiful work, as always :)

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    1. Thank you Emily. It is truly comments like yours that make me beam with pleasure.

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  7. Well, it looks delicious to me! But you are right..there is no crawfish head sucking done up here in Ohio! haha. Tiny lobsters...yes, that is a great way to put it! Or like shrimp...most people don't have any trouble peeling them, cutting off their heads and pulling off their legs! haha.

    Lovely photos....as always!

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    1. It's so funny to read people's reactions to crawfish. Yes, shrimp...even squid is so mainstream but I'm more afraid to sit in front of a huge lobster.

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  8. What a new and delicious recipe my friend for all seafood lovers out there :)
    And as usual exceptional photos too!

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

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  9. I can't say that I've ever eaten crawfish but I don't think I would mind trying. I am sure they don't look that different from shrimp.

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    1. The little tail meat is the same texture as shrimp but a tiny bit sweeter like lobster. The spices that in the boiling water give the crawfish meat a wonderful flavor.

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  10. Having vacationed in the South a number of times, I've had some incredible Cajun food. Funny, I think of crawfish as tiny lobsters too. Halfway through this post I was ready to stop reading and go to the store for gumbo ingredients! It's been so long! Thanks for the delicious photos and recipe!

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    1. Mmmm...gumbo. I make a huge pot every year so I have enough to freeze and enjoy over winter.

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  11. What a fantastic post I immediately want to share! You have made history, food, photography, nature and more so real and exciting! Living semi-rurally in Australia I may not be able to access crawfish but the recipe and ideas will surely be passed along - thank you!

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    1. Thank you Eha. You must be looking forward to fall season coming up. I'll bet it is beautiful in Australia.

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  12. Wow! What a fabulous post! I love the photos and your recipe! You make me want to book another trip to the South...

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    1. Me too, Tessa. The cool weather is almost at an end and I need to get to New Orleans for a food filled weekend.

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  13. I always have in my mind that I don't like Cajun flavors - but in reading your recipe - I think I have been wrong! Thanks for sharing that, your wonderful photos, and your words!

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    1. Thank you Tracy. Yes, cajun flavors are definitely unique. It might be a love/hate experience. As a child, gumbo was sometimes an uncertain dish...we didn't know what all was in that bowl!

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  14. I am so TERRIBLY jealous of your crawfish experience. I love it all - crawfish, the potatoes, corn, mushrooms, sausage, boudin... oh man I'm making myself drool. Your pictures capture the ESSENCE of it all

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    1. Oh, Rooth, I hope you didn't move too far away. You'll have to get your southern "fix" when you are home. Everything will taste 10x better than what you remember!

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  15. Oh my, hold the bus, I'm coming over! Love the recipe, love your photographs!

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  16. Oh. Yum! I'd be right there, sitting at the newspaper-covered table with you! This post reminds me of some Swedish friends who recently went on a road trip in the south. They were so delighted to find their beloved crayfish in Louisiana -- and so surprised by the spice! (I guess in Sweden they eat them cold with mayonnaise and dill :)

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    1. How interesting that crawfish are enjoyed/eaten in Sweden! I didn't know that. I also have a blogger friend in Australia who used to "gather" them with his brother when they were little.

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  17. Oh Sarah it is after midnight here and how I wish I could snack (read stuff my face) with your crawfish. People that consider them strange to eat have never tasted them. Because they really are like little lobsters and taste amazing! Sadly we can't get them here but I often daydream about crawfish etouffee. Sigh....Thanks for sharing:)

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    1. Definitely when you come back for a visit, you'll have to put these on your list. I imagine with your love of spices that this would be right up your alley!

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  18. Those ducklings melt my heart. I was brought up eating lobsters because my parents had a lobster processing factory after we left the farm but I can see how they could freak out some people and crawfish are so much smaller. I would love the dish you made.

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    1. Suzanne, I just love that you have layers of history that fascinate me! A lobster processing factory?! Wow.

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  19. After I retreated from my
    food, photo therapy I had to say. Thank you! Love, love, love your work and appreciate the inclusion of the scrumptious fresh french bread which you probably made from scratch...and the nice cold beer. You would have to be from the south to know that crawfish spread on a newspaper covered picnic table oozing with sausage, onions, corn and potatoes would be nothin without the beer, bread and company. Thanks once again for making my day!

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    1. Ory, from one cajun to another...."Pooyie!!" One another topic...did you go on the HMSM field trip to the Botanical Gardens? We got stuck in traffic and saw the bus pull out a block ahead of us! I wanted to go so badly and I wondered if you were going too.

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  20. I have one quick question, I live in WI and can't get fresh ones, so would I have to boil to cook them first, and then add them to the dish. Or would I just let them thaw and throw them in. I love craw fish but just never cooked them before.

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    1. Jai, I did take a look at the frozen crawfish offerings here. There is crawfish sourced from China and the rest usually sourced from Louisiana. I actually added a packet of the frozen crawfish tails (already peeled) to my dish because I couldn't peel as many as I needed. Usually, they are already cooked and just need to be mixed into the etouffée at the end. Most crawfish frozen packets that I have seen are already boiled because it is easier to get the shells off that way. So, they will just need to be added (like shrimp) the last 5-6 minutes before serving the dish.

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  21. Your photos are stunning and your recipes sound delectable. We would love for you to share them at thefeastingeye.com. The Feasting Eye is still a bit new, but I think you will like what you see :-).

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