Louisiana Crawfish, Rice, and Roux
From the moment I laid eyes on those tender, pearly crawfish tails suspended in a thick smoky red sauce on a bed of lacy white rice, I knew I was hooked. It was love at first sight, and smell. By the end of that first bowl of Crawfish Étouffée, I was designing invitations and picking out china patterns.
According to the good folks of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana (the self-proclaimed “Crawfish Capitol of the World”), the crawfish first came into popularity in the 1920s and 1930s as a good source of protein available to cash strapped Cajuns. It is now a staple of both Cajun and Creole cuisine. But Crawfish Étouffée didn’t appear regularly on menus until the 1950s. Rumor has it that the word étouffée from the French “étouffez” meaning to smother (presumably in sauce). Indeed, for me, the heart and soul of Crawfish Étouffée lies in the dark, creamy pungent sauce. And the heart of that sauce is a good roux.
Roux The Day
Learning to make a proper roux is one of those hard to learn (“it’s as much an art as a science”) things that you really have to practice to get a feel for. But learning to make a good roux is the key to so many Gulf Coast dishes that, if you have any interest in dabbling with Louisiana/Cajun/Creole cuisine, your time spent learning to do it right will be amply rewarded. A roux is essentially a thickened sauce made of roughly equal parts flour and fat (butter or oil). The color and deep rich taste of any roux depend on how long it cooks, and how good the cook is at continuing to stir, such that it neither burns nor cools too quickly.
The “perfect” color and flavor for a roux is a matter of taste. Once you’ve made 5-10 you’ll get a feel for what you like, and how well they thicken your soup/stew/gumbo, etc.
To Create a Roux(partially based on this recipe at All Recipes (dot com):
1. Melt 6 tbs. Butter (or oil) in a good saucepan (on medium flame)
2. When the butter is fully melted (but not boiling) toss in a pinch of flour. If the flour barely sizzles the fat is hot enough.
3. Whisk in 6 tbs. of flour and keep on stirring.
4. Your goal is to incorporate the flour and fat into a creamy sauce, and keep stirring as the heat slowly and evenly (that’s the key) thickens and darkens the roux. It can take 20-30 mins. of steady whisking to get a good rich mahogany roux.
5. DO NOT let your roux bubble or boil. It’s very easy to burn this mixture.
6. Be careful not to burn yourself. This is a very hot concoction and the flour makes it sticky. If it bubbles and splatters on your skin, it’ll sit there like a molten paste and burn the bajesus out of you. Avoid that at all costs.
When combining your roux in a recipe, you always want to slowly and gently incorporate (stir) cold ingredients into the hot roux to avoid developing lumps in your roux.
The next best part of Crawfish Étouffée is the silky smooth tails of the crawfish, a freshwater (shrimp/lobster-like) crustacean found in the wild (rivers, creeks, streams, wetlands, etc.), and farmed in ponds throughout the United States Gulf Coast. Known for it’s delicate meat, and white to pinkish red color, crawfish are considered a delicacy in many quarters, and have found their way into restaurants all around the globe. They are used in everything from Crawfish Étouffée and jambalaya, omelets, and even pizza. If you’d like to know more about these tasty little buggers, you’ll want to read this All About Mardi Gras crawfish article.
The best Crawfish Étouffée is served on long grain white rice. Something about the delicate long thin grains complements the tender meat of the crawfish tails. And when the starch from the rice mixes with the roux/sauce, it makes a heavenly, sticky, spicy sweet glaze that is to die for.
Crawfish Étouffée is one of those dishes that tickles the “Ahhhhh” nerve in the primordial reptilian part of the brain that is all instinct and pleasure sensors. Done right (whether that’s out in a restaurant, or cooked at home) good Crawfish Étouffée is dark and dense, but light as a feather, and the flavors dance a jig on your tongue.
Recipe provided courtesy of Louisiana Foods:
The recipe below does not use a separate roux, but there’s no reason you can’t play with the recipe to incorporate a roux.
1 lb. cleaned crawfish tails, commercial kind
Enough crawfish fat and water to make 3/4 cup
1 heaping tablespoon tomato paste
1 stick margarine or butter
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 heaping teaspoon all purpose flour
1 tablespoon parsley
1 teaspoon salt
2 very thin slices lemon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon green onion
Use a saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Season crawfish tails with salt and pepper, set aside. Melt butter, add onion, and cook over medium heat until tender. Stir in the flour. Blend well. Add water, crawfish fat, lemon, tomato and garlic. Cook slowly, about 20 minutes, and add a little more water occasionally.
When the sauce is done, add crawfish tails, and cover with a lid. Cook 8 minutes. Season again, to taste. Add green onion and parsley, cook 2 minutes longer.
Serve on steamed rice. Garlic bread and green salad is a good companion to crawfish étouffée.
COOKING TIP: Commercial crawfish are pasteurized and practically cooked. If you are using live crawfish, wash, and then scald in boiling water. Clean them, picking off the shells, leaving tails whole. Save crawfish fat.
When tails and fat from live crawfish are added to cooked mixture, it should be cooked 10 or 15 minutes longer.
Getting the Tail Meat From a Crawfish:
(based on the sources listed at the end of this article - and on personal experience given by various Louisiana cooks)
1. Hold the tail section (shell side up) firmly in one hand.
2. Use your thumbs to twist and pull the shell away from the tail meat.
3. Dunk the meat in butter, and eat.
Sources (and External Links)
The author/editor is indebted to others for the content in this article. While the final product on this page is ours, and we claim full ownership and responsibility for same, what you read here is based on our research which led us to the following sources of information: