Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Crawfish Etouffée: Celebration of the Mudbug

Crawfish, also known as the crawdad, mudbug and crayfish, are the pride of the marshland country of southern Louisiana. Like mussels, they're manna from nature — self reproducing, self sustaining, easy to capture and pleasing to the palate. Crawfish look like little lobsters, and have a flavour that's very similar, but they're half the price. In the little Cajun town of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, there's a historical marker proclaiming it 'La Capitale Mondiale de l'Ecrivisse' — the Crawfish Capital of the World. It's no hollow accolade, for within a fifty-mile radius of the town, more crawfish are produced than in any other area of the world. Twenty million pounds a year to be exact. 

The Annual Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival

Breaux Bridge's restaurants were the first to offer crawfish on their menus, and it was here that the insanely delicious Crawfish Etouffée was created. And every summer, thousands of hungry people flock to the tiny town to be part of the Annual Crawfish Festival and enjoy the sound of authentic Cajun, Zydeco and artists such as Chubby Carrier & the Bayou Swamp Band!

Chubby Carrier & the Bayou Swamp Band

Fortunately, you can enjoy classic Creole cuisine without having to boogie down to the Bayous, because frozen crawfish tails are available in specialty food markets here in Toronto, in shops like Diana's Seafood, the Seafood Depot and the St Lawrence Market. Crawfish is also the main ingredient in the Creole classic Ecrivisses Cardinale, a modified version of Crawfish Etouffée, which is said to have been invented at Antoine's many years ago. The 'Cardinale' comes from the fact that, although not the deep red of a cardinal's hat, the dish is pink. Both recipes are usually served over rice, but can also be served in puff pastry or poured over Crawfish Cornbread, whatever you like. This is the land of mudbugs and the 'big easy'. Laissez le bon temps roulez!

Antoine's Ecrivisses Cardinal
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of Chef Michael Regua of Antoine's, New Orleans

1/4 cup parsley, chopped
1/2 cup green onion, chopped
1/2 cup white onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 oz melted butter
Pinch of thyme
Pinch of basil
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 lb crawfish tails, steamed
16 oz half-and-half cream
3 oz blonde roux - equal parts butter and flour
2 tbsp white wine
2 tbsp brandy
salt and pepper to taste

Sauté first four ingredients in melted butter until limp, but not brown. Add thyme, basil and tomato paste. Then add crawfish. Cook until very hot. Add white wine and brandy, reduce until the alcohol is cooked off. Add roux and cream. Simmer until it thickens, but isn’t thick. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with parsley and green onion and serve over rice.

Crawfish Etouffée in Puff Pastry
Serves 6
Recipe courtesy of Emeril Legasse

1 package frozen puff pastry (2 sheets), thawed
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup minced shallots
1 1/2 tsp minced garlic
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 cups heavy cream
2 tbsp Cognac or brandy
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne
1 lb boiled crawfish tails, or cooked peeled medium shrimp
Finely chopped green onions, garnish
Finely chopped parsley, garnish
Paprika, garnish
Watercress, well rinsed and spun dry, garnish

Preheat the oven to 400°F. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each pastry sheet to an 11-inch square. Using a 4-inch puff pastry cutter with middle insert, cut 3 rounds from each sheet, saving the scraps for another use. If you don't have a cutter with a middle insert, you can cut out 4-inch circles and then use a 2 1/2-inch cutter to remove the middle round.

Place the pastry rounds 2-inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake until golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and gently lift off the top and reserve the top. Scoop out and discard the soft inner pastry. Return the shells to the oven and bake until starting to crisp, about 3 minutes. Remove and let cool.

In a large sauté pan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and garlic and cook, stirring, until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the flour and stirring constantly, cook for 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the cream, brandy, lemon juice, salt, and cayenne, and whisk to combine. Cook, stirring, until the sauce thickens, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the crawfish tails and cook until warmed through, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and adjust the seasoning, to taste.

Arrange the puff pastry rounds on 6 plates. Divide the crawfish cardinale among the pastry shells and place the tops slightly off center. Garnish each plate with the green onions, parsley and paprika, with watercress on the side.

Breaux Bridge Crawfish Cornbread with Cheddar & Jalapeno 
Serves 8 
Recipe courtesy Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival Association

1 cup white cornmeal 
1/2 tsp soda 
1 tsp salt 
1/4 cup cooking oil 
1 can cream-style corn 
2 eggs
1/2 lb grated cheddar cheese
3 chopped jalapeno peppers
1 cup chopped onions
1 lb chopped crawfish

Combine all of the ingredients into a large bowl, and mix thoroughly. Pour into a lightly greased baking pan. Bake at 350F for 45 minutes. Serve sliced with Crawfish Etouffée or Cardinale.

Breaux Bridge Crawfish Étouffée
Serves 6-8
Recipe courtesy of Café des Amis in Breaux Bridge

According to Acadian cooks, étouffée—which was invented in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, in the late 1920s—is the most celebrated crawfish creation of all time.

1⁄4 lb butter
1 cup onion, finely chopped
1⁄2 cup green bell pepper, finely chopped
1⁄2 cup celery, finely chopped
1 tbsp garlic, peeled and minced
1 tsp salt
1⁄2 tsp. cayenne
2 cups hot Fish Stock
2 tbsp cornstarch
2 lbs crawfish tails, peeled
1⁄4 cup scallions, finely chopped, for garnish
1⁄4 cup parsley, finely chopped, for garnish

Melt butter in a large, heavy pot. Add onions, peppers, celery, garlic, salt, and cayenne, and cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. Add 1 1⁄2 cups of the stock. Stir cornstarch into remaining 1⁄2 cup stock and add to pot. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat, and cook until slightly thickened, about 20 minutes. Add crawfish tails and cook until warmed through, 2–3 minutes. Garnish with scallions and parsley. Serve over rice.

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