Let’s cook: Louisiana Crawfish Bisque

We’ve had a bit of warm weather here in Louisiana and my azalea bushes are bursting into bloom. This reminds me that spring — and Mardi Gras — are on the way. Along with spring comes crawfish season. These crustaceans are plentiful this year, so I’m planning on making a several crawfish dishes. This week I’m attempting to cook Crawfish Bisque. This wonderful, thick soup is prepared in a way that is unique to Louisiana. The crawfish add a distinct favor. The traditional way to make Crawfish Bisque is an all-day process, so I’m adapting the recipe to something that I can manage. The bisque is still tasty and delicious!

Louisiana Crawfish Bisque

What is bisque? It is a rich, creamy seafood soup based on a flavorful stock. The stock incorporates the shells of the shellfish — shrimp, lobster, crab or crawfish — into the broth. In Louisiana, crawfish bisque is a slight twist on the classic French recipe of bisque.

The traditional way to make Louisiana Crawfish Bisque is an all day process and is usually done once a season — at least according to my Cajun friends. A large quantity of live crawfish — 18 lb or more according to some recipes — are purged in salt water and then boiled in seasoned salt water. After the whole crawfish are boiled, the crawfish tails are peeled and the meat is removed and saved.  The crawfish heads are cleaned of their guts. Then some of the crawfish tails are ground up, added to seasonings and bread crumbs and stuffed back into the heads. This is added to a rich soup which has been thickened with a roux. It is a delicious and elegant soup, if you can make it through the process.

Cleaning and scrubbing the crawfish shells is a long and arduous process and really takes most of the day. Therefore, crawfish bisque is usually made only once or twice a season in traditional Cajun homes.  My friends will tell stories of watching their mothers and grandmothers spend the day cleaning the crawfish heads and making the bisque. This soup is often made around Easter during the Lent season.

I attempted to clean crawfish shells only one time. It is harder than it appears. So, I’m providing several shortcuts to preparing a Crawfish Bisque. However, the crawfish heads floating around in the soup really makes this dish special and unique. So I found some boiled crawfish at my neighborhood grocery store and decided to try the old-fashioned way, too.

This is one pound of boiled crawfish. I have to say, these crawfish are really small — it is still early in the season. There are 30 crawfish in this pound. Later, the crawfish will be larger and perhaps easier to clean and stuff. But boiling a sack of live crawfish is beyond the scope of what most folks can reasonably do — so I’ll use the ones boiled and seasoned commercially.

Making the Bisque

Making Crawfish Bisque consists of several steps. If you’ve managed to find whole, boiled crawfish then follow along. Otherwise, used frozen, peeled crawfish tails and a commercial broth. Skip down further in this post.

And, you might ask, and I thought about it, what is the best order to prepare this multi-task dish. Ideally, a person would peel the crawfish tails and make the broth early in the day. Then, cook the soup and lastly stuff the crawfish heads, bake them and add to the soup at the end. If you are using commercial broth, this order works, too. If you’ve waited until the last minute to make homemade broth, then you can follow-along in the order I’ve given.

First step, peel the tails –– and try not to eat the meat! Separate the tails from the body and scoop them out. Save the shells and set the meat aside.Take the heads with attached body segment and clean and scrub out all the guts. Normally, only the heads are stuffed, but since these are so small, I’m using the body segments, too. I’ll refer to these as the “heads.” These crawfish were fairly easy to clean, but often it takes some scraping to get the guts separated and cleaned out of the head. And set aside several whole crawfish for garnish and visual effect.

This is my 1 lb of crawfish. The shells will go into my homemade stock. The heads will be saved to be stuffed. My small 1/2 cup of peeled tails will be ground up and used to prepare the stuffing. These crawfish didn’t have much yellow fat, but if there is any fat, then add it to the tails. It adds flavor.

Second step, make a homemade seafood stock. Use the shells of the tails as well as the claws along with an onion, celery and thyme to make the stock. This can simmer on the stove while you continue on. This step can be skipped, substituting  commercial seafood stock instead of making the homemade stock.

Third step, make the crawfish stuffing. The seasonings — onion, celery, bell pepper and garlic — are finely minced or ground up. These are sauteed until tender.

Since I don’t really have enough peeled crawfish tail meat from the whole crawfish, I’m going to add frozen, peeled tails. And these are Louisiana crawfish — not ones imported from China or Denmark. There is quite a difference in size and flavor — so check the label before purchasing — I’ve been surprised several times.

I’ll use half the 1-lb package of frozen and defrosted tails in the stuffing and add the rest directly to the soup. Remember, that since peeled crawfish tails from a frozen package are not completely cooked, they will need to be cooked further. Saute 1 cup of tails (1/2 of the package) with the seasonings until cooked. Then grind all this up. Make a stuffing with the ground crawfish and seasonings, bread crumbs, an egg and a little parsley. Add enough bread crumbs so that the stuffing holds its shape.

Fourth step, stuff the crawfish heads and bake. Stuff the heads. Since these were very small crawfish, I had filling left over. I rolled these into small balls and tossed in bread crumbs. I baked the balls and stuffed heads for 20 minutes at 350 degrees. In the meantime, continue on with the soup.

Here is where you can take a short cut. If you don’t have the whole crawfish, then the frozen and defrosted, peeled tails will work to make the stuffing. Just roll all the filling into small balls and bake. Skip stuffing the heads.

Next, make the soup.

For a Louisiana-style bisque, the soup itself is made with a traditional Louisiana roux to thicken it. Often the soup is flavored with vegetable seasonings, a little tomato paste and perhaps some sherry. Some recipes include cream; other recipes omit the cream. Some recipes puree the soup to make a smooth consistency, others don’t. There are, understandably, lots of variations in recipes. Traditional recipes from my older cookbooks do not include cream or sherry and don’t include puree soup. Thicker, smoother soup with cream seems to be a more current trend.

Since both the soup and the stuffing include the seasonings of onion, celery, bell pepper and garlic, I grind all this up at the beginning. Then I portion a little for the stuffing and use the larger part for the soup.

Step five, make the roux.

No matter what, the bisque uses a roux — browned flour and oil — for thickening. Cook these in a small, heavy skillet until browned — like a copper penny or darker. Stir constantly over medium heat so the roux does not burn.

Step six, add the seasonings and finish the soup. Add the finely chopped or ground seasonings (onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic) and cook until they are tender and lose their raw flavor. Cook over low heat — about 5 to 10 minutes.

Add a tablespoon of tomato paste and a pinch of dried parsley. This is one of the few Cajun recipes where I add a tomato ingredient. But I like the flavor. Add a bit of sherry, too, if you like (not a Cajun ingredient).

Drain the homemade stock and measure it. Add water, if needed, to make 6 cups of stock. Or use 6 cups of commercial seafood stock. Slowly add some of the stock to the roux to moisten the flour. Then add to the pot with the stock. Cook for 30 minutes. Add the remainder of the crawfish tails and cook 15 minutes longer. Add the stuffed crawfish and balls, too, to re-heat the stuffed heads.

Taste for seasonings, add salt, pepper and Tabasco pepper sauce if needed and cook for 5 additional minutes. Remember, that live crawfish are pre-soaked in salt water (to purge the intestines) and then cooked in salted, seasoned water. They may already be highly seasoned and you may not need much additional salt or Tabasco pepper sauce.

Step 7, ladle into soup bowls and enjoy!

Portion into soup bowls and divide stuffed crawfish heads and crawfish balls evenly among the bowls. Serve along with French bread and a Mardi Gras spirit. Now, we’re in Louisiana. Enjoy this flavorful and unique bisque!

The soup does take several steps to make. It is rather involved and time consuming. You can simplified things by omitting the whole stuffed crawfish and homemade stock. But, that is what makes this soup special. Crawfish heads swimming in your soup! So go for it — at least once this spring.

Louisiana Crawfish Bisque

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

Ingredients for homemade seafood stock:

    • Crawfish shells from 1 lb peeled, whole crawfish
    • 1 large onion, chopped in quarters
    • 1 celery stalk, cut in chunks
    • 1 tsp ground thyme

Ingredients for the stuffing and soup:

    • 1 lb whole crawfish (optional)
    • 1 lb peeled, frozen crawfish tails, defrosted (2 cups), divided
    • 1/4 cup oil plus 2 Tbsp, divided
    • 1 medium onion, finely chopped or ground (1 cup), divided
    • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped or ground (1/2 cup), divided
    • 1/4 bell pepper, finely chopped or ground (1/4 cup), divided
    • 2 large garlic cloves, finely minced, divided
    • 1/3 cup seasoned bread crumbs, plus more if needed and some for dusting
    • 1 large egg, beaten
    • 1 Tbsp dried parsley
    • 1/4 cup flour
    • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
    • 6 cups homemade seafood stock or commercial seafood stock
    • 2 Tbsp sherry (optional)
    • 1 tsp salt, optional
    • 1/4 tsp black pepper
    • 2 – 4 drops Tabasco pepper, optional
    • French bread slices, toasted and buttered (optional). To toast, slice thinly, butter if desired, spread in single layer on baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes.

Method and Steps:

  1. For the stock, add the crawfish shells, quartered onion, celery chunks and thyme to 6 cups water in stock pot. Bring to boil, then let simmer on stove for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Strain the broth and set aside.
  2. For the stuffed crawfish. Peel the whole crawfish (save several for garnish). Set aside the crawfish tail meat. Scrub and clean the heads of the guts. Reserve 24 of the cleaned head shells and set aside. (Use the remaining pieces of shells — such as the claws and tail shells for the stock.)
  3. Heat 2 Tbsp of oil heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1/4 cup ground onion, 2 Tbsp ground celery, 1 Tbsp ground bell pepper and 1/2 of the finely minced garlic. (Save the remainder of these seasonings for the soup.) Stir and cook for 5 to 10 minutes until the vegetable seasonings are wilted.
  4. Add 1 cup of the defrosted crawfish tails. Add the crawfish tail meat from the whole crawfish, optionally. Cook for about 5 minutes until cooked through.
  5. Remove the cooked crawfish mixture and cool slightly. Process in food processor bowl until ground up.
  6. Transfer to a medium sized bowl. Add seasoned bread crumbs, beaten egg and dried parsley. Mix until blended and forms a ball. If the mixture is too moist, add additional bread crumbs, 1 Tbsp at a time.
  7. Stuff the 24 reserved crawfish shell heads with the crawfish filling. If any filling is left over, roll into balls about the size of 1″ and dust with a little of the bread crumbs. Place the stuffed crawfish heads and balls on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside. (Tent with foil to keep warm.)
  8. Make the soup: Add 1/4 cup oil and flour to small heavy skillet over medium heat. Stir constantly and cook until the roux thickens and turns the color of a copper penny. This can take from 10 to 20 minutes.
  9. Add the remainder of the ground vegetable seasonings — onions, celery, bell pepper and garlic. Cook and stir over low heat for 5 to 10 minutes,  until the seasonings are cooked and lose their raw flavor.
  10. Add the tomato paste, cook several additional minutes.
  11. Measure drained, reserved homemade stock and add enough water to make 6 cups. Alternately, use 6 cups of commercial seafood stock. Add 1 cup of stock to the roux in the small skillet. Stir and cook to moisten the roux and remove lumps. Return the remainder of the stock to the pot along with the moistened roux. Stir well to blend and remove any lumps of roux.
  12. Add the sherry, if desired. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
  13. Add the reserved 1 cup of peeled, defrosted crawfish tails, the stuffed crawfish and balls, and cook for an additional 15 minutes.
  14. Check for seasonings, adding salt (optional), black pepper and just a few drops of Tabasco sauce (optional). Cook for 5 additional minutes.
  15. Ladle into 6 soup bowls and divide stuffed crawfish tails and balls among bowls.
  16. Serve with toasted French bread.

Here’s a beautiful azalea which I passed in my neighborhood. Spring is my favorite time of year in Louisiana. Can’t wait for it to get here.

And here is a blooming Japanese Tulip tree. Yes, a tulip tree. No leaves yet on these small flowering trees but the blossoms are beautiful. This is one of the first flowering trees in Louisiana and a sure sign that spring is on its way.

And, for all the cat lovers, I saw this beautiful, white cat just sitting in his “space” enjoying the view while out on my photo journey around the neighborhood. Couldn’t help taking a photo of him, too. Watch out, all you lovely birds, don’t get too close to this one!

 

5 thoughts on “Let’s cook: Louisiana Crawfish Bisque

  1. Pingback: Let’s cook: Louisiana Crawfish Bisque — beyondgumbo | My Meals are on Wheels

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