Ken’s Crawfish Etouffee

In the comments on the gumbo recipe, Caro asked about crawfish. Crawfish is almost always the first thing to come up in a discussion with non-Cajuns about Cajun food — unless it’s Thanksgiving, when the talk turns to Turduckens or Deep-fried turkey.

Let me say first that Crawfish Etouffee has little to do with crawfish boils–in which people stand around in the backyard drinking beer and getting their hands messy cracking those little buggers open and eating all the tail meat. Unless you have an outdoor space, the proper equipment and access to live crawfish, you can just forget about boiled crawfish. It’s only good fresh. And though you can get live crawfish delivered in season (generally February through June), it’s ridiculously expensive. And take it from someone who boiled crawfish in a New York City apartment — just don’t. The horrible ditch-water smell will be with you for weeks and stray cats will come from miles around to investigate. At any rate, if you want the great taste of crawfish, go with etouffee. (Ay — too — fay)

Crawfish etouffee is a rich, buttery crawfish dish served over rice. The below recipe is easy … so easy, in fact, I’m not certain I transcribed it correctly! I wrote this version down for a friend’s wedding quite a few years ago (hence the vaguely inspirational sounding notes toward the bottom). Cooking time varies, but it shouldn’t be overly watery and end product should come up with a reddish-yellow color. Traditionalists out there will point out that it’s better first to make a roux and do it the slow way, but you can find those sorts of recipes on your own.

1 pound of cleaned and cooked crawfish tails
1 stick of butter
1 big yellow onion
1 medium sized green pepper
1 bunch of green onions
1 bay leaf
2 pods of garlic (or more if you can stand it)
Couple of stalks of celery
Can of Campbell’s Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup
Optional: three or four Roma tomatoes
Salt and black pepper to taste. Cayenne pepper if you want to spice it up

Chop onions, peppers, celery and garlic. Sauté in butter over medium heat until onions are translucent and green peppers have wilted. Chuck in the crawfish tails, the bay leaf and, if using, the diced tomatoes. Add black pepper and salt. (Go easy on the salt, because Cream of Mushroom soup is fairly salty). Let cook on medium low for about ten minutes. Spoon in Cream of Mushroom soup, about half the can to start (this depends on how liquidy the product is so far) until you have a thick, creamy sauce. Put on simmer. Chop up green onions and chuck those in for color and taste. Let simmer for another ten minutes or so. Do not leave heat on high or overcook because crawfish will get rubbery. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Serve over cooked white rice.

Notes:
1. This is an extremely simple dish. Cooking time takes perhaps 30 minutes (of course, playing around and cooking longer usually makes things taste better). There are much more complicated ways to make this dish. But, some times, shortcuts do work. And notice, too, the ratios are pretty much all 1:1 so if you want more, it’s pretty simple for even math dummies like me to figure out.

2. The crawfish is best ordered from Louisiana. Cajungrocer.com is a good site for such things. Like most things in life, the crawfish tails can be found in Chinatown for much cheaper and much less effort. But it tastes awful. Just because something (or a reasonable facsimile of something) can be found in Chinatown, it does not mean you should purchase it. Your guests will not be impressed with your nose for a good deal if your dish smells like water from a drainage ditch.

3. Butter. Butter is important. Everything is better with butter. You can cut the butter amount a little if you want the dish to be a little less rich. But under no circumstances are you to use oil of any kind, margarine or butter-like substances.

4. Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup. Not to sound like a Midwestern house wife, but you should always have a few cans of this in your pantry. Like a lot of the much-maligned values of the red states, Cream of Mushroom soup seems hopelessly trite, outdated and square. But it works. It’s something that, used in the right way, can make an exotic dish like this and do it quickly and simply. The old-school version of this dish calls for a roux. But that’s awfully French sounding, and as usual when involving the French, is overly complicated, time consuming, likely to fail-all for an end result that tastes the same.

5. Tomatoes. Everything above this line is my mama’s recipe. Mama doesn’t use tomatoes. I do. Why? Partly to jazz up the taste. Partly to be different. Sometimes you can tweak tradition without throwing it all out the window.

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