September 2013
Your Next Meal From the Wildside

Crawfish

 
Cason makes a crawfish dance that was part of a Low Country Boil.  

Versatile, Fun Cajun Delicacy

When my family lived in Anniston, my parents would take my sister and me on day trips every now and then. They packed the car with blankets and a picnic, and drove deep into the woods. For us, the woods meant the Talladega National Forest. I remember riding in the backseat while our mom and dad found the best spot to set up camp. I am pretty sure dad had pre-scouted the locations because somehow we always ended up next to a picturesque creek with plenty of shade. My sister Jenny and I never got bored, even without toys, books or technology. It is amazing how children can find something to do or get into with a little time and imagination.

We enjoyed the peaceful surroundings and being enveloped in such a beautiful, natural environment, but we once had an encounter with wildlife we had not previously experienced: crawfish crawling along the creekbed. Although we had been to New Orleans many times and eaten a lot of local cooking, my sister and I had never seen live crawfish. Once my parents explained what they were, my sister and I caught a few to "play" with. I have caught my fair share of frogs and lizards as a mama, but I definitely don’t think I would be able to handle live crawfish now, although I would encourage our kids Rolley Len and Cason to catch them.

There are not many places left in Alabama where you can go and harvest enough crawfish to feed your family, but there are other ways to get the Cajun delicacy. Whole crawfish and tails are sold frozen in some grocery stores, but there are also aquaculture farmers who produce them for live crawfish boils and festivals.

Festivals are a great place to try crawfish because you also get a taste of Cajun culture. Besides great food, most events will have Zydeco bands and crafts or artwork. Some festivals even have pools of live crawfish for children. Mobile has an annual festival, and Huntsville hosts the Heads-N-Tails Festival in the spring. Faunsdale, near Selma, has held an annual crawfish festival in May since 1991. You can find information about festivals near you by searching online.

Many people use smaller crawfish as live bait for bass or catfish. To find them, look for wet areas like ditches on the side of a dirt road or creeks. It takes crawfish 90-120 days to mature and get to the size you would want for eating, but they can get to the size of a penny in about two weeks. This is the perfect size for bait. Seine the ditch to get the crawfish or put out minnow baskets in shallow water or branches. Jason uses an old washing machine tub to catch crawfish by covering the open end with a screen and placing it in a shallow area of the pond. Jason said that growing up this was the main way he collected bait. Be sure to tell children to pick them up by the tails so they don’t get pinched.

 
  Easy Low Country Boil

You will see that crawfish can be fun for kids as well as delicious. When Cason saw the heap of crawfish, shrimp, corn, sausage and potatoes on the dinner table, he immediately grabbed two crawfish to make them dance. Not being able to decide what they actually were, he called them both "bugs" and "crabs." Before we showed him how to eat one, he took a chomp of one still in the shell getting a mouthful of claw. He was undeterred and ready to try again.

Crawfish are as easy to cook and as versatile as shrimp. Jason and I like them in étouffée, fried, sautéed or in a boil. Children who love shrimp will most likely like crawfish as well. Putting crawfish on the menu for your next meal is easy. Even if you can’t gather them yourself, you can still buy locally from an aquaculture farmer or your grocery store.

Crawfish Pies
(From my aunt Judy Rhodes)

 

2 prepared pie crusts

¼ cup butter, divided

1 cup onion, chopped

½ cup bell pepper, chopped

½ cup celery, chopped

1-2 cloves garlic, crushed

1½ teaspoons salt

1 pound crawfish tails, peeled and cooked

2-3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup broth with ½ teaspoon liquid crab boil (such as Zatarains)

Sauté onions, garlic, celery and bell peppers in 1 tablespoon butter until soft, add salt then set aside. Melt remaining butter on medium heat. Slowly stir in flour (to make roux) until brown (the color of peanut butter). Add onions, garlic, celery and peppers, mixing well. Heat mixture until it is bubbling hot. Add crab boil to broth. SLOWLY add broth mixture stirring constantly. Do not let it boil over. Remove from heat and let it cool completely.

Roll out pie crust and cut each crust into four pieces.

When mixture is cool, spoon onto crust. Fold crust over and crimp the edges together with a fork. Cut slits in the top, place on cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees until brown (about 15 minutes).

Note: To make it spicier, just add more crab boil to your broth.

Easy Low Country Boil 
(for live or frozen pre-cooked)

Prep for live crawfish:

First, rinse the crawfish well while still in the bag. Then put them all in a large tub of cool water. This will help remove more external dirt and also allow the crawfish to naturally purge waste. Swirl them around to help remove dirt. Then place a small number of them in a colander and rinse them off with cool water. Do this for all of the crawfish, empty the dirty water, refill with fresh cool water and repeat this process until the water is clear (5-8 times). As you rinse, remove any debris and dead crawfish from the batch.

Prep for frozen crawfish:

Run warm water over the frozen crawfish to help thaw them. Let them sit for about 10 minutes before adding them to your boil.

For the boil:

Whole red potatoes

Link sausage (like Conecuh)

Whole crawfish

Large Gulf shrimp

Frozen corn on the cob

Crab boil seasoning (we use Louisiana’s Cajun Land)

Fill a large pot with water and add potatoes; bring to a boil. After 8 minutes, add sausage and live or frozen crawfish; bring to a boil. After 5 minutes, add shrimp; bring to a boil. Turn off the heat. Add corn and the amount of seasoning you want. Let soak for 15 minutes. (The cooling allows the shellfish to soak up the spices.) Drain with a colander and serve in a heap on a table covered with butcher paper.

For more information about how to create and develop a crawfish farm, visit http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-0891/.

Links to crawfish festival information:

Mobile,http://mobilecrawfishfestival.com/

Faunsdale, http://entertainmentguide.local.com/faunsdale-crawfish-festival-faunsdale-alabama-5142.html

Birmingham area, https://www.facebook.com/schaeffereyecentercrawfishboil

Christy Kirk is a freelance writer who lives in Little Texas.