Wednesday, January 10, 2018


Hey la bas, or Eh la bas, or Hay la bas, whatever spelling of this Cajun exclamation you choose to use, reports are that the crawfish have buried deeper into the mud during the cold spell this month. There’s no exact season for the mudbugs, but usually, we begin to bring out the crawfish pots in January, and fishermen head for the waters of bayous, rivers, and the Gulf of Mexico to catch these crustaceans (however, 60 to 80 percent of today’s catch comes from crawfish ponds). Below freezing temps have resulted in diminished catches of smaller crawfish, but I’ve also read reports about the high quality of those that are caught. By the time we Mardi Gras in Acadiana, Clovis Crawfish should have emerged, fat and tasty, if the weather holds.

Although I became allergic to shellfish in my fifties, I still read and appreciate recipes that feature this south Louisiana favorite. I especially like the (sound of) crawfish dishes prepared by two of Louisiana’s premier chefs: Marcelle Bienvenu and Stanley Dry.

Marcelle is a native of St. Martinville, Louisiana and has cooked in Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, Brennan’s in Houston, in her own restaurant, Chez Marcelle, the restaurant at Oak Alley on the River Road, and has written several Who’s Your Mama, Are You Catholic, and Can You Make A Roux? cookbooks. Vol. 2 of this title includes an old-fashioned “Crawfish-Okra Gumbo” and “Fried Crawfish Tails,” and in the volume Marcelle edited for The Times-Picayune Creole Cookbook (sesquicentennial edition) she treats readers to “Crawfish Baked a la Creole.” The latter cookbook contains recipes tested by this chef with the assistance of Food Innovations, Inc. I met Marcelle one wintry day when she was the chef at Oak Alley and The Times-Picayune Creole Cookbook had just been launched, a copy of which lay on a counter in the Gift Shop at Oak Alley. As I thumbed through the cookbook, I realized the outstanding job she had done testing the recipes. “You should write your own cookbook,” I told her, and a few years later I was excited to read about her first Who’s Your Mama volume. Ingredients of Marcelle’s recipes include stories about family members centered around the table and photographs showing them at gatherings or outdoors enjoying the temperate Cajun climate. She’s an accomplished raconteuse as well as a premier chef.

Stanley Dry’s Essential Seafood Cookbook is the second of Dry’s publications, and for crawfish lovers, the “Lagniappe” section contains a plethora of dishes featuring the mudbug: “Crawfish Omelet with Penne and Green Peas,” “Spicy Crawfish Spread” served on crackers, “Spicy Tofu with Crawfish,” and an all-time favorite in south Louisiana: “Mini Crawfish Pies.” Dry declares that “these days in Louisiana, crawfish show up in dishes from every imaginable cuisine” — thus, the piece de resistance, “Crawfish Tacos.” Dry writes the “Kitchen Gourmet” column for Louisiana Life Magazine and is a former senior editor of Food and Wine magazine. His articles about cooking, wine, restaurants, and travel have appeared in The New York Times, Food and Wine, and other magazines focused on good food and drink.

Meanwhile, the mudbugs should be stirring soon as the weather has warmed. Crawfish marketers predict that the crustaceans should be a good size with a lot of meat and fat and ready for a tasty étouffée. Eh la bas, I envy those who can partake!

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