Mudbug. Crayfish. Mudpup. Crawdaddy. Crawfish. Whatever you call them, those little warm water crustaceans are delicious, relatively inexpensive, easy to cook and make a fun food to try while you’re on the road.
Second cousin to the larger and more expensive Maine lobster, crawfish are small freshwater lobsters that taste like a cross between shrimp and lobster. Found in lakes and streams in North America, these native crustaceans were first enjoyed by Native Americans. Today, kids still pull the little critters out of local
waterways with a line and hotdogs (or just about anything) for bait. You can catch them yourself by the trap-full or stop by a fish store or crawfish farm and pick up a few dozen for a delectable meal.
Louisiana is best known for crawfish and produces the 4-inch red swamp crawfish. However, you can find crawfish around the country. Oregon is the second largest commercial crawfish producer and its native species, Pacifastacus leniusculus or the “signal” crawfish, is sweeter and a bit larger (up to 6 inches).
Some prefer the delicate flavor of West Coast crawfish; others like Louisiana’s version (it stands up to hot spices). Spring/early summer is Louisiana’s traditional crawfish season; the West Coast season lasts until early fall.
Crawfish, like crab or lobster, must be cooked live and Louisiana crawfish need to be purged for 15 minutes in salt water to remove any mud (crawfish from sandy-bottomed sources do not). Crawfish are traditionally cooked outdoors in a large pot over a fire or propane burner. Don’t cook crawfish (or crab or lobster) in your motorhome or your rig will smell like a fishmonger’s!
A Louisiana crawfish boil consists of crawfish, sausage, potatoes and corn on the cob boiled together. Potatoes go into a large pot of boiling water seasoned with butter, garlic, lemon wedges, crawfish boil seasoning and spicy Cajun seasoning for about 10 minutes. The corn and sausage are added for 5 minutes. The crawfish go in last and are cooked with the other ingredients for 4-5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the pot sit covered for 10 minutes.
A crawfish feast doesn’t even require dishes. Drain the crawfish, potatoes, corn and sausage, and spread them on newspaper. Pass the paper towels and beer or soda and enjoy.
To eat crawfish, grasp the head with one hand and the tail with the other hand. Gently squeeze the tail end close to where it joins the head and twist. The meaty tail end easily twists out. Slide a thumb under the first few segments of the top of the tail and peel away the top part of the tail.
If catching or cooking your own crawfish seems like too much trouble, try some of my favorite crawfish eateries.
Doguet’s Crawfish Farm, Beaumont, Texas. Tour this crawfish farm to see how crawfish are raised, buy live crawfish or try some at their new café.
Hollier’s Cajun Kitchen, Sulphur, La. This Cajun-themed restaurant offers traditional Cajun foods, including spicy and creamy crawfish etouffée.
Jake’s Famous Crawfish, Portland, Ore. Uses only Oregon crawfish and serves French-style (not spicy) crawfish boil, chilled crawfish appetizer and crawfish etouffée.
My Brother’s Crawfish, Portland, Ore. Two Vietnamese brothers from Texas whip up some really tasty crawfish boil and crawfish etouffée spiked with sweet Asian hot sauce.
Sartin’s West, Beaumont, Texas. Fill up on a bucket of Sartin’s crawfish seasoned with spicy Tex-Joy seasonings.
Seafood Palace, Lake Charles, La. This casual café serves crawfish boil, crawfish etouffée (spicy, flavorful roux studded with celery and chunks of sweet crawfish), and local fish, oysters, shrimp and gator. Crawfish is available December through May.
Steamboat Bill’s, Lake Charles, La. Check out this place for pistolettes, stuffed fried bread rolls, topped with creamy crawfish etouffée.
Mudbug Madness Festival, Shreveport, La. Every Memorial Day weekend, people come to eat crawfish boil and etouffée and dance to foot-stomping tunes. Got a favorite mudbug haunt? Let Bobbie know at [email protected] (“Road Foodie” in the subject line).