Crawfish, Crawdad, Crayfish? Whatever You Call It, It’s Underrated

Last Sunday, 7:03 a.m. No alarm sounds, but my brain wakes up anyway.

showing up to a party with  fresh bread and no butter would be a crime

garlic butter is a sin worth repenting for

ooh, fresh herb butter

the only herb in my garden big enough to sacrifice right now is sage

Aunt Rose bought me a little cookbook with nothing but flavored butters

7:11 a.m.
Small battle ensues to emerge from comforter cocoon, find sweatshirt, and head to kitchen

7:14 a.m.
Found it! Flavored Butters by Offerico Maoz. Butter shouldn’t be this pretty

no sage and garlic butter

I’ll just base my recipe on the garlic-dill butter

7:21
Found kitchen shears, flip-flops, and I’m off

Sage & Garlic Butter    

Ingredients:
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ Tablespoons chopped fresh sage
2 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
½ teaspoon salt

Directions:

Combine all ingredients until well blended. I use a stand mixer because it allows for multi-tasking, but a wooden spoon will do just fine.

Use within two days or the sage will brown and lose its fresh flavor. Besides lathering on bread, this butter is also good to cook with (think potatoes, roasted veggies, seafood, poultry, etc.)

Yes, I’m a little odd for getting up early on a Sunday morning with visions of compound butter dancing in my head. But in my defense, I was excited. I was going to my first ever crawfish boil!

Not one to show up to a party empty-handed, I offered to make fresh bread to go with the meal. In keeping with the French/Cajun origins of the crawfish boil, (some pronounce boil, “bowl”) baguettes were in order. Having only made them a few times mine still turn out a little lopsided, but the taste more than makes up for the aesthetics.

Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, how I love thee? Let me count the ways! My tip for baguettes making-the recipe suggests painting the dough with water before cutting the signature slashes. I love the idea of painting dough, but actually found that it was more effective to just dip the bread knife directly in the water between cuts.

There’s a charming little story of how when the French Acadians were forced from Canada down to Louisiana, soon to be Cajuns, lobsters followed them. Worn down by the journey, the lobsters shed pounds and shrunk down until they became crawfish. (I found a great article if you want more details: “Crayfish or crawfish? Whatever … westerners really know how to enjoy them”)

Crawfish boils are well known and appreciated in Louisiana, but are not as popular in Northern California as they should be. It took living in New Orleans for a couple of years for our lovely hostess, Sacramento native Irene Lugo, to fall in love with them.

Upon her return, she wanted to share this tradition with her friends and family. In her research for the party, she found that Sacramento and New Orleans actually have quite a bit in common. These sister cities were both built near a large delta, and where there’s a delta, there’s an abundance of crawfish.

My very first crawdad experience was on an ill-fated camping trip. I was maybe 9 or 10 years old. The flaming marshmallow and bike crashing incidents rather weakened my memory of the rest of the trip (I’ve forgiven marshmallows, but my downhill phobia persists). But I do remember going on a hike at one point, a hike with a mysterious purpose. The grown-ups wouldn’t tell us where we were going, or what we were going to do when we got there. The surprise at the end of the trail: fishing for crawdads with bologna tied to the end of a string. I remember seeing flashes of red under rocks in the creek bed, but couldn’t say if we actually caught any. So, I’m pretty sure that, up until last weekend, I had never eaten a crawdad.

So, how do crawdads compare to their more esteemed cousin, the lobster? To me, they are nearly identical in taste. The biggest difference is not the size, but how you eat them. Often, lobsters are eaten in nice restaurants with linen and fancy little forks. Crawdads, on the other hand, are usually eaten from a steaming mound dumped unceremoniously onto a newspaper-covered table. No plates, no crackers or silly little forks, just your fingers and wit to feed you. It’s fabulous.

I enjoyed my first crawdad boil far more than any of my lobster experiences. Boiling everything together with citrus and spices infuses it all with so much flavor. Potatoes, carrots, corn on the cob, smoked sausage, they all taste better. Especially when eaten outside on a sunny afternoon sandwiched between days gray with rain.

There’s definitely something to be said about standing together around a newspaper covered table eating with your fingers that makes you feel somehow more connected. Unfamiliar faces become familiar. Strangers become friends.

If you don’t have the energy to put on your own boil, and don’t know anyone who you can talk into putting one on, mark your calendar for the annual Crawdad Festival held in Isleton every Father’s Day, where over 25,000 pounds of crawdads are consumed in a three day period.

Also, I can’t help but share some cool (or geeky depending on how you look at it) science stuff. I just finished Jonah Lehrer’s book, How We Decide. It’s highly edible. Here’s an article about how researchers were able to isolate individual neurons for decision making in crayfish: http://www.calacademy.org/sciencetoday/crayfish-decisions/

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8 Comments

Filed under Cookbooks and other Book Reviews, Cuisines (Regional and International), Ingredients, New Recipes

8 responses to “Crawfish, Crawdad, Crayfish? Whatever You Call It, It’s Underrated

  1. felizheidi

    Love all the pictures! The close up bread photo looks like it was taken at a bakery! I also especially love the picture of Irene by the glasses. Pretty! 🙂

  2. Irene

    It was wonderful to share and “break bread” with family and friends :o) Your baguettes were perfect and I had no idea your sage butter was improvised (should not be surprised), without a doubt your contribution enhanced the crawfish boil experience. Along side John, this boil rocked!
    @ Heidi – thanks! You should join us for next year!

    • Thank you so much for the invite! Your party was wonderful, and we do make a great team! We may need to make this a habit. Heidi-it would be worth the plane ticket 🙂

  3. Karen Safranski

    Well, I’ll just have to go to Isleton. Cliff is boiling the crab he caught this weekend and I sure wish we had your sage, garlic butter breat to go with it:)

    • I loooove crab! If you don’t have any fresh herbs, in a pinch, you can just melt some butter in the microwave with a crushed garlic clove. That’s what I always do to go with our artichokes. Heaven!

  4. Nicole

    the only time I made herb butter was when I had to many radishes and tried a roasted radish recipe and the butter was included to be eaten on them. I totally forgot how good that butter was! I think its about time to make some more. Yum!

    And a whole book on flavored butters? Nice! I need to see if our library or bookstore has that one so I can flip through it, I’m curious.

    • This weekend I made my first butterflied chicken and rubbed a sage garlic butter under the skin. It was amazing! I do recommend that cookbook-it gives lots of really good ideas on what to do with all the butters. It also includes nut butters, so eventually I will try making my own peanut butter.

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