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When in Rome, Crack Open Some Crawdads

May 9, 2011

I never understood some people’s aversion to trying new food. The way I see it, everything I now enjoy I had to try for the first time at some point. If there were no first times, there’d be no enjoyment – oh, and I’d have starved to death long ago, too.

My approach to food is to ask two basic questions: ‘Are other people enjoying it?’ and ‘Are you sure it’s not poison?’ If the answer to both of those questions is ‘Yes’ I don’t really care what it looks like, what it smells like, where it comes from, or what it is – you can count me in.

The awful smelling blackish cheese I discovered in Paris was a revelation. There is absolutely no reason anyone would ever put such a thing in their mouth except, perhaps, out of utter desperation. It looked and smelled like death. But someone else did eat it, they did survive, and lots of people now like it; so who am I to turn my nose up at it without ever giving it a chance? I’m so glad I did. The earthy flavor and the buttery texture were wonderful. When paired with a hearty red wine, pure poetry. As someone who grew up thinking cheese meant Velveeta or mozzarella, the experience opened a whole new world and confirmed in me the absolute benefits of trying new things.

These crawfish weren’t exactly like that cheese. They smelled wonderful. But most of us Americans aren’t used to eating things that actually look like food. Sure, we’ll suck down an unnaturally blue colored drink while chomping on “chicken” that was squeezed out of a tube into nugget shaped molds without a second thought. But if it has eyes or legs or any other evidence that it was once a living creature, we suddenly get squeamish. Whole crawfish, meanwhile, look like they crawled directly out of a Chernobyl roach motel.

Their appearance wasn’t my biggest problem, though. Now that I had them, I didn’t have a clue what to do with them.

It's a time consuming and messy job to extract tiny morsels of meat from crawfish, but so worth the effort.

We had it on good authority that Cajun Seafood was the place to go for traditional southern crawfish in New Orleans. Located outside of the touristy French Quarter, in a somewhat sketchy neighborhood, under the I-10 freeway, it looked like a run-down gas station. But I wasn’t there for the ambiance, and I didn’t intend to stay. After ordering a pound each of the boiled crawfish and jumbo shrimp, which were spooned up and handed to me in plastic bags, I was on my way.

Once home I dumped them on a plate and immediately realized my problem. I looked at the crawfish, they looked at me, and I looked at Shannon and asked ‘now what?’ We were on our own with this one. Neither of us had ever shelled crawfish before. How hard could it be, I thought. I’ll just start peeling and I’m bound to find something that looks edible. I knew that was a bad idea the moment a bilious yellow liquid started oozing between my fingers. Thank heavens for the internet. Within a few moments we learned everything we needed to know about shelling crawfish (the meat is in the tail).

I’ve had some unkind things to say about lobster in the past. One might think that my complaints about boiled lobster apply equally well to boiled crawfish. They don’t.  What New Englanders often get wrong with lobster (in my view) southerners get right with crawfish. The difference? The water is seasoned, a lot. There’s salt, and lemon, and cayenne, and Creole spices, and heaven knows what else mixed in with the boiling water to make sure the little crustaceans have a fittingly delicious and spicy end. I’ve been told there are as many recipes for boiling crawfish as there are people who eat it. One thing I know for certain though: Cajun Seafood has it nailed.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 10, 2011 2:38 am

    do they sell it pre peeled? Actually I would eat the tail part. Not sure about the head part.

    • May 10, 2011 7:12 am

      We never saw pre-peeled crawfish, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get them that way. You don’t eat the head – although if you want to eat them like a local, you’re supposed to suck the spicy juices out of the head & body. Um-um good.

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