By Beth D'Addono
February 22, 2022
Come spring, everywhere else in America is thinking flowers, cherry blossoms and the end of the winter chill. In New Orleans, the seasons are defined a little differently than everywhere else. Spring, besides being when Jazz Fest comes around, is when crawfish come into season. If you aren’t from Louisiana, the importance of crawfish may be hard to understand, but crawfish boils punctuate every social gathering, from family reunions to weekend barbecues.
If you’re new to the idea of picking crawfish, here are a few things you need to know:
• Although they are sometimes called mudbugs, these savory morsels are not bugs. They’re freshwater crustaceans that look and taste like — and are kin to — small lobsters.
• They’re harvested from bayous, swamps and marshes and are also farmed in managed ponds.
• Crawfish are good for you — low in calories, fat and saturated fat, and an excellent source of protein, vitamins and minerals.
• While crawfish season typically runs from March through June, you can eat them all year. The tail meat is harvested, pre-cooked and frozen, giving chefs the option to make everything from crawfish étouffée to crawfish bread year-round.
• A traditional boil, a mix of crawfish, sausage, Cajun spices, potatoes and corn, happens only during the season.
• To eat a boiled crawfish, break off the tail, suck the juice out of the head (or not), pull the meat out of the tail and enjoy. Repeat until you can’t eat any more crawfish.
"I usually figure about three to five pounds [of crawfish] per person when we have a boil," says Alison Vega-Knoll, chef at Station 6, a seafood-centric restaurant she owns with her husband, Drew, in Bucktown, a former fishing village just outside New Orleans. Born and raised in New Orleans, Vega-Knoll hails from a family of fishermen, and the photos around her restaurant tell the tale.
Vega-Knoll puts lots of garlic in her boils, one of her favorite bits to eat along with the crawfish. After all the carnage, when there’s nothing left except corn cobs and crawfish debris, get the funk off your hands with saltines, she adds. "They get the smell off. It really works."
Although most visitors won’t have the opportunity to go to a neighborhood crawfish boil when they’re in New Orleans, don’t be shy if you pass a knot of locals crowded around a huge pot on the street, in City Park or down by Lake Pontchartrain. They’ll be happy to give you a taste.
For those who prefer not to pick at their food, chefs also dish out savory creations that deliver the flavor without the muss. "I like to put a twist on traditional dishes", says Vega-Knoll, who makes a variety of crawfish recipes such as crawfish grillades, a smothered brunch dish usually made with veal or beef and served over grits. Studded with mushrooms and bits of tomato, silky with veal stock, this bowl of savory goodness is served over white cheddar grits, a perfect way to soak up every drop of sauce.