Throughout South Louisiana, many families hold large crawfish boils on Good Friday then spend the better part of Holy Saturday working elbow-to-elbow preparing what is known around the region as the most time-consuming and labor-intensive dish that’s ever come out of a Cajun or Creole kitchen—Crawfish Bisque. This impressive meal is an Easter Sunday tradition for many. And there’s no better time than Holy Week to bring grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins together to share in its preparation. If you are like me, however, and don’t have an army of relatives nearby, you start the bisque-making process a week or so in advance and pray for perseverance.
Crawfish Bisque, in all its iterations, shows off the Louisiana crawfish better than any other recipe out there. Just about every part of the mudbug comes into play to create this thick, rich soup layered with deep, earthy crawfish flavors. The sweet tail meat and savory, yellow fat (a critical element) take the lead in the stuffing that ultimately fills meticulously cleaned crawfish heads (actually the thorax). In addition to serving as a vehicle for transporting that scrumptious stuffing, the multitasking shells also form the base of the aromatic stock and contribute to the dish’s unique, conversation-worthy presentation.
There is nothing quick about an authentic bowl of Crawfish Bisque. There’s nothing overly challenging about it either. The only real obstacle is the clock. Sadly, though, Crawfish Bisque has lost its place on many holiday tables and restaurant menus. But coming from a gal who just labored through 40 pounds of crawfish and countless hours of purging and boiling and pinching and picking and cleaning and boiling (again) and chopping and stuffing and frying and simmering, I’ll be the first to say that Crawfish Bisque is well worth the effort and it’s a local cooking tradition that deserves to be preserved and passed on.
Crawfish Bisque Recipe
Crawfish Stock, Crawfish Tails and Crawfish Heads
10 pounds well-seasoned, boiled crawfish
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped
6 quarts cold water
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onions
1/2 cup finely chopped green bell peppers
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
2 pounds crawfish tails with fat, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon Lea & Perrins (Worcestershire sauce)
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup Italian bread crumbs, or more as needed
100 crawfish heads, cleaned
All purpose flour, for dredging
1 cup canola oil
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped green bell peppers
1/4 cup finely chopped celery
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
2-3 quarts warm crawfish stock
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
100 stuffed crawfish heads
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Salt and black pepper
Baked Rice, for serving
FOR CRAWFISH STOCK, CRAWFISH TAILS AND CRAWFISH HEADS: Peel the crawfish. Pinch the claws off of each crawfish, place them in a reseable plastic bag and pound them with the flat side of a meat mallet; set aside. Separate the heads from the tails, taking care not to crack the heads—and do not suck the heads. Peel the tails and place the meat along with any yellow fat in a large bowl. Using a butter knife, scoop out any additional fat from inside the cavity; add to meat. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. To make the stock, in a large pot heat the oil over high heat. Add tail shells and reserved claws to pot. Cook, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes. Stir in the onions, celery and cold water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until reduced by half. When done, strain and discard solids. Return stock to pot, cover and keep warm over low heat until ready to use. Meanwhile, clean 100 large crawfish heads. To do so, turn the head (actually the thorax) upside down, reach into the cavity with your index finger and pull the entire section down through the bottom of the shell. Discard innards. Grab the eyes, antennae and pointy tip of each shell between your thumb and index finger and carefully break off that section; discard. When all the heads have been cleaned, rinse under running water and place in a pot of cold water. Boil for 5 minutes, drain and pat dry.
FOR THE STUFFING: In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the onions, bell peppers and green onions. Cook, stirring frequently, until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in reserved crawfish tails with fat, garlic, parsley, thyme and Lea & Perrins. Cook until heated through. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove mixture from the heat and stir in beaten eggs and 1/4 cup bread crumbs. Add just enough additional bread crumbs as needed to hold mixture together. Stuff equal amounts of crawfish mixture into cleaned crawfish heads. In a large heavy pot or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, dredge crawfish heads in flour, shake off excess and fry until light golden brown, about 2 minutes per batch. Drain on paper towels; set aside. Reserve oil in pot.
FOR THE SAUCE: Using the same pot and oil from frying the stuffed heads, make a roux by bringing oil back to temperature over medium-high heat. Gradually add flour, whisking carefully and vigorously after each addition until smooth. Continue whisking until the roux is the color of peanut butter. Add the onions, bell peppers and celery. Cook, whisking constantly, until vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add garlic; cook an additional 2 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and whisk until slightly cooked down, about 3 minutes. Gradually whisk in 2 quarts reserved crawfish stock. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Stir in bay leaves, cayenne pepper, white pepper and reserved fried, stuffed crawfish heads. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour. If bisque becomes too thick, gradually add more warm stock to desired consistency. Add parsley and season to taste with salt and black pepper. Serve over Baked Rice with lots of French bread on the side for dipping. Makes 10-12 servings.