The plump, armored crawfish, inland cousin of the lobster, thrives and multiplies in the swampy bayous of Louisiana and provides the main ingredient for dozens of treasured recipes handed down for generations, and seasoned with the herbs and spices found in abundance in our state.
Cajun housewives, Creole chefs and Negro cooks have filled the kitchens of coastal Louisiana with the fragrant, pungent aroma of cooking crawfish each spring for some two centuries.
More versatile a treat than shrimp and more easily obtained, the crawfish is found in bayous, lakes, ditches and swamps,and today is carefully cultivated in many a backyard pond.
The species of crawfish native to Louisiana was known in early times to the Indians living on the lowlands skirting Louisiana’s Gulf coast and was an important source of protein to such tribes as the Houmas, who inhabited what is now Terrebonne Parish.
Not long after the founding of New Orleans, French gourmets, ever onthe alert for new taste treats, discovered this same crawfish to be a delectable delicacy for the table.
Crawfish bisque became a favorite dish in the homes of early Acadians. Like gumbo, it was fashioned lovingly with ingredients available almost at the doorstep: bay leaf, onions, garlic and thyme. The succulent tail meat of the crawfish was minced with the spicy condiments, stuffed back into the scrubbed heads and simmered into an unmatched delicacy.
Down the bayou, when the first signs of spring make their appearance, probably the most speculated subject among the good Cajun folks is whether there is the right amount of water in the swamp to produce a good crop of crawfish. The Cajuns think of them as écrevisses and other Louisianians may refer to them as crawfish, crayfish, or “mudbugs”—but no matter what the name, they’re delicious springtime eating.
[Born and raised in southern Louisiana, and no one in my family or circle of friends EVER referred to them as “mudbugs” We called them “CRAW” (rhymes with “RAW”) and NOT “Cray” (Rhymes with “RAY”)!!]
A growing demand for crawfish has brought about the development of an important industry in Louisiana. Sugar farmers, rice farmers and cattlemen throughout the Southern portion of the state are flooding idle fields to create ponds for the cultivation of crawfish.
The Atchafalaya Floodway, constructed by the U.S. Corps of Engineers after the disastrous flood of 1927 to contain flood waters of the great Atchafalaya River, has also played an important role in the development of thecrawfish industry.
[Another thing that people forget is that crawfish was CHEAP and in many cases free in the beginning, which is why it became a staple of the poor Louisiana residents. Many years later, it is no longer a cheap food, it is a HUGE import item from China!]
There was, practically speaking, no crawfish industry prior to construction of the floodway. Crawfishing was a family endeavor, and the catch sold commercially only by those who had gathered more than could be consumed at home, and then the surplus was peddled at the doors of neighbors.
The floodway embraces many a low-lying parish in the land of the craw-fish. Conditions within the floodway are particularly conducive to their growth and multiplication.
In south Louisiana two kinds of crawfish are important in commercial marketing: the red crawfish which thrives in the shallow water of ponds, ditches and marshes, and in deep floodway waters, where they grow larger; and the white crawfish, found mostly in swift-flowing streams, which is less plentiful than its red cousin.
[Have to add to what he wrote. IMO there are two types of “red” crawfish. Fresh water and Deep water. When the season is fully “ON”, we get fresh water crawfish. It means the crawfish were most likely farmed in low depth, fresh water fields. Because fields are drained after harvest, the crawfish don’t live for a long time. Shorter life means softer shell.
Deep water crawfish, on the other hand, has a MUCH deeper RED color (almost a black-red), and it MUCH more difficult to break the shell and peel. Some will also tell you that the meat is slightly tougher as the crawfish lived longer.]
Crawfish farmers and processors of Louisiana are reveling in the financial consequences and opportunities afforded by the increasing national and inter-national demand for the savory little cousin of the lobster.
The other main way is to use your finger and dig out the fat. Many of us switched to this method so that we could see the color and consistency of the fat before eating. Many farmers (and cookers) don’t fully clean or “purge” their crawfish before cooking, and because of this, a lot of the boiled crawfish has such dirty fat and trash in the body that you won’t eat it.
Remember though – I have only talked about boiled crawfish. Crawfish is a seafood meat – it can be cooked many different ways — fried, sauced, smothered, etc.