Lagniappe is French for “a little something extra.” Crawfish is definitely one of the more unique foods that Louisiana has to offer. Call the freshwater crustrations by either mudbugs, crayfish or crawfish. In Louisiana they are big enough to eat; it is not springtime without boiled crawfish. I also like peeled crawfish tails prepared in dishes such as crawfish etouffee and bisque.
I’ve been fascinated with crawfish ever since some friends invited us to go crawfishing. Crawfish are trapped in the Atchafalaya swamp, in the spillways around the swamp, on rice farms that have been flooded and ponds that have been dammed. For this blog post, I looked over photos I’d taken in past years of crawfish and several trips into the swamp to come up with this collage.
We took a tour through some of the Atchafalaya swamp about four years ago. This area is home to ancient cypress trees. The trees were heavily logged earlier in this century and only a few majestic trees remain; here is one. It was February and the water was high. Later in the spring, the water level drops allowing a person to get out of the boat and wade. This is the type of swamp where wild crawfish could be trapped.
I’m glad we were with a guide; it is easy to get lost and turned around in the swamp. Every thing looks the same in all directions. Our guide for this trip was conservationist, Dean A. Wilson, Atchafalaya Basinkeeper who includes protecting the cypress trees as one of his missions.
Crawfish stay underground in their burrows until the water is 50 degrees or above. This has been a cold year, the crawfish are small and expensive. Later in the spring it will warm up and the crawfish supply will be more plentiful. Our family took a canoe trip in May of 2001 to the Bell River area (time flies). This is the spillway at the edge of the swamp. We are behind a levee in a boating channel and behind these trees is the swamp. We found crawfish trappers coming in from the swamp with their catch for the day.
Crawfish trappers set out baited traps, then come back several days later and check their traps. They take their catch to processors who are located close the the basin and spillway. The live crawfish are sorted, sold to restaurants and seafood markets or processed and peeled. It is a quick turn-around time as crawfish are perishable.
The crawfish are placed in 25-35 lb bags.
Wild crawfish actually account for a only small portion of the total crawfish which are sold. Most crawfish are raised in crawfish ponds–either flooded rice fields or ponds that have been dammed up. Here are some rice fields of the Wright family in the the Crowley area. The family is known for the many strains of rice they have developed. A friend and I were visiting for another reason; but I took this photo of the rice fields. Airboats checking the traps in the background are just visible.
A common way of preparing crawfish is boiled–often for a crowd at family gatherings or picnics. Boiling them yourself means investing in the equipment and time to learn how to correctly season the crawfish. Plus you need a supply of live crawfish to boil. Five pounds of live crawfish equate to one pound of peeled tails; and a person can eat 2-3 pounds–up to 5 lb for the hungry ones, so a large pot is needed, propane burner, etc. This is the set-up of the Brossard family; the crawfish are steeping and soaking up the seasonings. Often corn and potatoes are added to the pot for the meal.
We have a crawfish boil at our annual dulcimer music festival, here are some of the crowd enjoying the mudbugs at one of the events.
Plenty of grocery stores and seafood markets sell boiled crawfish. Tony’s Seafood Market in Baton Rouge has been in business since 1955 according to their advertising. Their crawfish are delicious and we indulge a couple of times each spring. It is much easier this way to get just the right amount of crawfish. This market also has live catfish tanks; you can pick out your supper and then watch it being filleted.
These crawfish were just boiled–they are still hot.
Peeling and eating crawfish can be messy. We go outside in our backyard and put newspaper on the table to peel and eat the crawfish.
My husband ate all the crawfish before I had a chance to photo how a person peels the tails. Perhaps next time. Never thought I’d eat crawfish, but they are delicious. So if you visit Louisiana be sure to enjoy some laginappe: Louisiana crawfish.
Although I didn’t capture crawfish peeling, there are plenty of WEB sites with this information; here’s one: crazycajuncrawfish.com/Crazy_Cajun_Crawfish_Boiling_101.html