Benefiting A Charitable Organizations
As organizers of the Houston Crawfish, Crab & Grill Festival, we’re always looking for opportunities to engage more closely with the local community, create awareness about causes that have a positive impact, and give back to those in need. A portion of proceeds from the 2018 festival will benefit The As One Foundation.
The As One Foundation was established in 2007 as a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization to facilitate community programs both individually and in conjunction with similar organizations. Its mission is to educate and increase awareness of sickle cell trait while encouraging youth to achieve their dreams in the face of life’s challenges.
Why Crawfish is King
Crawfish is a tasty treat that brings to mind Cajun waters and New Orleans flavors. Like little lobsters, they provide succulent meat that is most often boiled at large outdoor parties, and thanks to their ability to thrive in the thick mud of Louisiana’s freshwater bayous, crawfish are affectionately called mudbugs. As a long-standing part of Cajun tradition, the legend of the crawfish tells of Canadian lobsters following Cajuns on their trek to Louisiana and shrinking to their current size as a result of the long walk, creating an even more endearing connection to the Louisiana culture. As a shellfish, crawfish is in season from late February to June and is the highlight of traditional crawfish boils that fill communities throughout late spring and early summer.
History of the Crustacean
Though most often associated with the Cajun community, Native Americans caught and ate crawfish well before Europeans settled in Louisiana, fishing for them with meat-baited reeds that they dangled into creeks and ponds. With the arrival of the Acadians, who would later evolve in Cajun society, the abundance of crawfish in local bayous was welcomed into their already seafood-heavy diet. This emphasis on the summer crustacean continues today throughout Cajun areas. Nets were used starting in the 1930s, evolving to the modern crawfish trap in the 1950s. However, as areas developed in the late 1800s, crawfish became less popular in high-society circles, eventually becoming associated with rural populations. In 1960, after the once-time delicacy reached an all-time low in price, a campaign was kicked off to re-popularize crawfish, and the first Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival was held in Breaux Bridge, the crawfish capital of the world. The festival continues today to celebrate the historic crustacean.
The festival’s efforts were successful, and restaurants began to offer dishes that featured the shellfish such as the modern crawfish etouffee. Crawfish became the Louisiana state crustacean in 1983, and it continued to be associated with Cajun culture until it became a staple symbol of bayou cooking. Today’s demand for the crustacean has led local rice farmers to take advantage of their rice ponds, where crawfish thrive, to produce a growing market for the shellfish. Crawfish farming is a necessity for the popular demand, with most crawfish being farmed in Louisiana.
Today Louisianans have perfected the art of enjoying crawfish, pulling them apart for easy access to the meat in their bodies, legs, and tails. They add flavors of lemon, butter, and hot sauce for an extra kick. Adding the meat to bisques and gumbos make for special dishes that celebrate the mudbugs in various ways. When it comes to the unique taste of crawfish, those who understand it best claim the flavor comes from the crustacean’s “fat,” a yellowish substance found on the tail when it is peeled and separated from the body. It is this “fat” that gives such acts as that special additive to dishes like the infamous crawfish etoufee, a recipe that calls for the tail to be simmered with onion and butter and served over white rice. True to Cajun cooking, it also keeps to its French name simply meaning smothered.
Traditional crawfish boils involve boiling the shellfish for anywhere from 40-75 minutes, depending on how much crawfish is in one pot. The broth consists of a blend of spices that can be tailored for a particular taste, but common ingredients include salt, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and lemon juice or fresh lemons. Fresh butter is often added along with potatoes and corn. Once the main dish is ready, many crawfish boils lay out newspaper and pour the crawfish, potatoes, and corn out for everyone to enjoy at communal tables.
The most common way to eat freshly boiled crawfish is a method that separates the tail from the body. Simply grab the head with one hand and pull the tail firmly with the other, twisting if needed, until they separate. For that extra bit of flavor, many people suck the juices from the head, but this is optional. For the body, peel off the first two or three rings, pinch the end of the tail, and pull the meat from inside the shell for easy access. Because crawfish are smaller crustaceans, crawfish boils tend to yield hundreds and sometimes thousands of fresh crawfish each hour to ensure that everyone has enough to go around—so you’ll be sure to perfect your technique by the end of the event if you are a first time boiler.
Your First Crawfish Boil
Many people outside of the Cajun culture experience their first crawfish boils at large festivals, which offer the taste of freshly prepared shellfish amid the Cajun community on a much grander scale than the backyard cookouts. If this is your first crawfish boil, you are in for a treat! The smell of juicy crawfish will greet you in the parking lot and plumes of steam fill float up from the horizon as you enter the gate. The hardest part will be knowing when to stop going back for more. For those of you preparing yourself for a world-class buffet, here are a few tips to make the most of your experience:
Dress for success. Crawfish boils are all about the food and music, and they are by nature held outdoors in the spring or summer. So dress in clothes that are not only comfortable in the sun but will survive a little lemon juice and butter sauce as you gorge on crawfish and crab.
Don’t be afraid to learn how to eat crawfish. Pulling apart their shells and getting at their meat isn’t the most natural thing to do, and you might not be the best at it the first time. Don’t be afraid to ask the person next to you or a vendor to show you how to go about it. Learning to get the most out of each shell makes the experience all the better, so don’t be afraid to jump in there—and get some good pictures while you’re at it!
Don’t forget the extras. Most boils include potatoes and corn or other vegetables in the broth. They are cooked to perfection with a mixture of spices and have an excellent flavor that pairs well with the crawfish. So don’t overlook them while pulling at tails.
Bring some lawn chairs if you plan on spending the day at the festival. It’s easy to fall in love with the flavor of crawfish and eat your weight in potatoes, corn, sausage, crab, kabobs, and other grilled dishes. You might need to rest a little and take a break before moving on to other vendors, and a festival is designed to introduce you to the crawfish community. So bring a chair, order a beer, and make friends with the people next to you.
No matter how you eat them, remember to enjoy that Cajun flavor of crawfish, crawdads, crayfish, swamp lobsters, mudbugs—whatever you’d like to call them!