Here is my second crawfish recipe for this spring during the peak of the Louisiana crawfish harvest. I don’t think that I would have considered making macaroni and cheese with crawfish but a local magazine featured this dish. Wow, this baked version is pretty good. Although I was skeptical at first about adding seafood to macaroni and cheese, the flavors blend nicely. The recipe uses penne pasta baked in a creamy cheese sauce and topped with Italian bread crumbs. Yum. Since crawfish tails are so, so expensive, I made several “trial runs” of the recipe using peeled shrimp. These turned out great, too. Here is a shrimp variation.
I’ve written several other blog posts featuring crawfish & pasta dishes over the years, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that macaroni and cheese would lend itself to a seafood variation. For example, I love chilled crawfish and pasta salad. Crawfish Tetrazzini turned out to be one of my favorite recipes for crawfish.
I am always looking for recipes to use Louisiana crawfish tails in addition to traditional boiled crawfish and am pleased with the results of this recipe. I did make the recipe several times to get all the ingredients adjusted properly, I found that penne pasta soaks up the creamy cheese sauce leaving the casserole quite dry. So If it seems like there is alot of cheese sauce in the recipe that is intentional. Too bad, we got to eat several batches of this dish! Here’s the crawfish version.
“Convenience” macaroni and cheese mixes and boxes are so prevalent in grocery stores, that these boxed mixes have just about captured the market — at least at our house. Here’s one instance where my kids prefer the boxed mix to homemade macaroni and cheese recipes. But I’m not using a boxed mix for this recipe, I’m going for the authentic experience and am making the recipe “from scratch.” Since the dish is baked, I’m calling it a casserole.
For the cheeses, I used an equal mixture of Colby Jack, Monterey Jack and Sharp Cheddar cheese. I liked this combination the best, but you can certainly change up the types and proportion of cheeses. I used peeled crawfish tails purchased in the frozen section of a grocery store. Make sure they are “Louisiana” crawfish — or ones from the United States. Crawfish imported from China or Denmark have an entirely different flavor. (Look for the emblem on the package.) These crawfish are raw — not cooked — so I sautéed them on the stove for just a few minutes prior to adding to the casserole.
Making the casserole
For this recipe, I used a penne pasta which is a tubular type of pasta. This pasta increases in volume when cooked; so you do not need alot of dry pasta — certainly not the entire one-pound box. Four ounces of dry penne pasta measured to be about 1-1/2 cup which was plenty for this dish. I would increase the pasta to eight ounces if substituting another type of pasta such as macaroni noodles.
To make the recipe, boil and drain the pasta and place in a oiled casserole dish. Set aside while making the cheese sauce — which is a white or béchamel sauce. First sauté chopped onions in oil in a large heavy pot (I like onions but these can be omitted). Add flour to the sautéed onions and stir for several minutes. Then slowly add in the milk, stirring constantly, to avoid lumps of flour. Stir until thickened over low heat. Add in the cheese. Sauté crawfish or shrimp in a little butter in another skillet to cook the seafood prior to adding to the casserole. (The casserole doesn’t bake in the oven for a long time, and I like to know that the seafood I’m adding is cooked through.) Cover the casserole dish with foil while baking which helps to keep the pasta from drying out. Add the bread crumb topping just at the end of baking.
Bread crumbs? I really like the bread crumb topping in this crawfish macaroni and cheese dish; don’t skip it. The topping adds crunch to the casserole. To brown the bread crumbs, uncover the casserole, add bread crumbs mixed with melted butter and bake for about 5 minutes longer.
Here’s my cheesy, homemade seafood macaroni and cheese. I love it and am glad I tried out the magazine recipe — which I adapted quite a bit. Serve this dish with a salad or coleslaw. I hope you enjoy it!
Baked Crawfish Mac & Cheese with a Shrimp Variation
- 1 tsp salt
- 4 oz (1/2 cup) dry penne pasta
- 2 Tbsp oil
- 1-1/2 cup onion, chopped
- 2 Tbsp flour
- 2 cups milk
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1-1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
- 1-1/2 cup Colby cheese or Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
- 1 Tbsp butter
- 1 tsp Tony Chechere’s Creole Seasoning
- 1 lb (3 cups) raw, peeled frozen crawfish tails, defrosted or 1 lb peeled shrimp tails, defrosted
- 1 tsp creole seasoning
- 1 cup Italian bread crumbs
- 2 Tbsp butter, melted
Method and Steps:
- Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Oil a 2-quart casserole dish (7″ x 11″).
- Add salt to 3 quart of water in medium-size pot.
- Bring to boil, add pasta and cook 12 minutes or until a la dente.
- Remove, drain and pour into oiled casserole dish. Set aside.
- Add 2 Tbsp oil to large heavy saucepan or Dutch oven. Add chopped onion. Sauté and cook onion on medium heat for 5 minutes until translucent.
- Add flour, cook and stir constantly over low heat for 2 minutes.
- Remove from stove. Add milk, several tablespoons at a time to onione/flour mixture. Stir constantly to combine in milk. Use back of spoon to break up any flour clumps.
- When all the milk is combined in, return to stove. On low heat, add cheese and stir just until melted. Set aside.
- Melt butter over medium-high heat In another saucepan.
- Season crawfish tails (or shrimp) with creole seasoning. Add seasoned crawfish to melted butter and sauté for one minute, stirring and turning crawfish. If using shrimp, stir and cook for about 3 minutes until shrimp are pink.
- Add crawfish and any juices to cheese sauce.
- Pour into prepared casserole dish and mix in with the boiled, drained pasta. Cover tightly with aluminum foil.
- Bake in 350 degree oven for 25 minutes.
- Remove from oven and remove aluminum foil cover.
- Combine Italian bread crumbs and melted butter.
- Sprinkle evenly on top of crawfish mac and cheese casserole. Return to oven and bake, uncovered, for 5 additional minutes until break crumbs are brown.
- Remove from oven and serve.
In addition to adding crawfish to make very tempting and unique to Louisiana dishes, we usually purchase boiled crawfish at least once during the spring months. Peeling and eating them is an outside activity. Spread the boiled crawfish on newspaper and peel away!