Posted by Benson
My wife Liz was born and raised in northern Indiana, so prior to marrying a native New Orleanian her only experience with “crayfish” was watching the little blue critters dart around in the creek behind her house. Needless to say, she wasn’t overly excited about her first DGA crawfish boil.
I think it had more to do with wanting to impress my family than the prospect of eating crawfish, but the poor, delicious little mud bug took all of the blame. Liz became convinced that she wouldn’t be able to eat them. I heard everything from “They look like bugs,” and “They’ve still got eyes,” to questions about why the crawfish are bright red and concerns about being able to peel them properly.
Luckily, I’d been enjoying crawfish long enough to know that I’d only have to peel her five or so freshly boiled crawdads before she’d be plucking out tail meat like a pro and asking for more. Liz has since come to eagerly anticipate the annual boil and this year several of the Miller crew are even coming down from Indiana. But I suspect that a few of our friends from out of state may have some of the same questions about crawfish, so here’s a little background on our tasty friend.
Not only are crawfish almost ubiquitous around the world (species can be found all across North and South America, Scandinavia, Africa, Asia, and elsewhere), but they are eaten almost anywhere they can be found. Native Americans have been enjoying crawfish for centuries. In 1606 Captain John Smith reported that in Virginia, “great craw-fishes…have been taken in great quantities.” In Australia, archaeologists have found fossil records of crawfish (locally called yabbies) eaten by aboriginal Australians at least 28,000 years ago. The crawfish was prized by Emperor Maximilian I of Austria, Queen Elizabeth I of England, and Napoleon Bonaparte of France. The Maori of New Zealand even have a saying, “Ka whe te koura,” “the crawfish turns red in hot water.”
In America, commercial interest in crawfish dates to the early 19th century. By the 1880s crawfish were in such high demand in New York that they were imported from fisheries across the country. An eight mile stretch of the Potomac River alongside DC accounted for a half-million crawfish shipped there every year. Crawfish are even celebrated outside of Louisiana. As best can be reckoned, the oldest crawfish festival in America dates to 1951 in a town called Tualatin, just ten miles north of Portland, Oregon.
Even though crawfish are enjoyed all across the United States and all over the world, no place on earth is as closely associated with crawfish as Louisiana. The crawfish is the state’s crustacean and Breaux Bridge, Louisiana is the crawfish capital of the world. In the Atchafalaya basin of south Louisiana, crawfish is a fundamental facet of Cajun culture. Louisiana is also by far the country’s largest producer of crawfish. Louisiana accounts for at least 90 percent of U.S production. In 2009 alone, 1,119 farmers and 1,559 fishermen produced 98.1 million pounds of pond-raised and 15.4 million pounds of wild-caught crawfish. And believe it or not, it is estimated that up to three quarters of Louisiana’s crawfish are produced for local consumption. The reason is simple: they taste really damn good!
The crawfish you’ll be enjoying this March are the best kind: Louisiana red swamp crawfish, locally produced in a sustainable, environmentally friendly aquaculture and rated as a “Best Choice” by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s “Seafood Watch” list. They’ll be boiled live, served up steaming and dripping with a naturally succulent flavor accentuated by the perfect blend of traditional Cajun seasonings.
Liz worried my ear off for weeks before her first crawfish boil. She may have been convinced that she wouldn’t be able to eat “crayfish,” but I knew that the little mud bug would speak for itself; it had been charming people the world over for centuries. Sure enough, half-way through her first pound and mid-way into her second beer she remarked, “They’re just like little lobsters, only better!”
Next week I’ll give ya’ll a little background on the tradition of crawfish boils so you’ll know what to expect when you get here. I’ll also give you some pointers on how to peel crawfish. It’s easier (and more delicious) to learn by doing, but a few quick tips will allow you to hit the ground running.