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Mudbugs, crawdads and crayfish

Crawfish, crawdads, mudbugs, crayfish, call them what you will. Debate on eating these delectable mini-lobsters can spark debate as lively as whether or not to add beans to chili. Just the tails? Tails and heads? Or whether to eat them at all - in some parts of the country they are considered only as fish bait.

Apparently, Lonoke County crawfish were becoming available and the July 18, 1985 edition of this newspaper included these instructions from the University of Arkansas Extension Service for preparing mudbugs. It seems to be a general presentation, though I have never de-veined the tails. Properly prepared crawfish do not need it.

Purging, or emptying the crawfish gullets, is not covered. My preferred method is leaving them in clean water for 12 to 16 hours. Though, if that process is used, there needs to be a way to aerate the water.

And, yes, I think the heads are the most flavorful part. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water.

The 1985 instructions:

“When selecting crawfish for cooking, use only live crawfish, free of mud and foreign matter. If debris or dead crawfish are in the container remove them. Wash the crawfish in a No. 3 tub or other suitable container.

“Boiling is the most popular method of cooking crawfish. Follow this procedure:

Choose a pot large enough to hold the crawfish and the water. Use about one gallon of water for each two pounds of crawfish. Crawfish usually are sold in 40-pound sacks. To boil a whole sack at one time requires a 32 to 35 gallon pot. Do not use too small a pot. If the pot is too full, the water and foam will overflow. It is better to cook smaller batches than risk overflows.

“Put the water in the pot; add seasonings. Add 1 pound of salt for each five gallons of water. Add either liquid or dry crab boil according to label instructions or to taste. Often onions, lemon wedges, garlic, red pepper, potatoes, sweet corn and other vegetables are also added.

“Bring the seasoned water to a rolling boil. Carefully add the crawfish. Crawfish are killed quickly upon contact with the boiling water. Bring the water back to a boil and make sure all crawfish are submerged. Continue boiling for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the crawfish soak for another 10 minutes before removing. This standing time enhances the flavor.

“Remove the crawfish from the water and allow them to air cool. As soon as they are cool enough to handle, they can be peeled and eaten. On average, plan for four pounds of crawfish per person.

“Separate the tail from the body. Peel the tail to remove the meat. De-vein by removing the outside curvature.

“Inside the crawfish head, on either side, are two yellow pockets commonly called fat. Open the head slightly, and using a ‘demitasse’ (small) spoon or a similar small tool, gently lift out the fat and place in a separate container. Use the as indicated in recipes. It has an unmistakable flavor that adds to crawfish dishes.”

As I said, these are general instructions; I have never seen anyone use a demitasse to “gently lift out the fat.” My method of attacking the head is my own, and definitely not “Cajun style,” which I have attempted and nearly choked to death.

And, if you have never tried crawfish before, find someone who will demonstrate how to lift the meat from the tail. There is a “lock ring” at the top of the tail that, unless broken, will defeat any attempt to extract the meat.

The instructions included this recipe for Crawfish Etouffee:

1 cup chopped green onions (including tops)

1 cup chopped celery

½ cup chopped bell pepper

½ cup cooking oil

1 8-oz. can diced tomatoes with chilies

1 8 oz. can tomato sauce

½ cup chopped fresh parsley

2 tsp. cornstarch

salt and pepper

2 pounds cleaned crawfish tails

Saute the vegetables in oil until tender. Add remaining ingredients except crawfish and simmer for one hour. Fold in crawfish.

Makes 5 to 6 servings.

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This is my recipe for Etouffee

2 sticks butter (not margarine)

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/2 cup chopped green (bell) pepper

2 – 4 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp. white pepper

1 tsp. black pepper

1 tsp. thyme

2 cups fish stock (or prepared bouillon)

2 lbs. peeled, cooked crawfish tails (plus crawfish fat if possible), or shrimp

1 cup chopped green onions (tops and all)

1/4 to 1/2 cup your choice of brandy or rum, or 2 – 3 tsp. brandy extract

First, make a roux – gently melt one stick of butter in a skillet, add the flour and stir until smooth. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly. Here is where personal tastes come in; I heat the roux until the bubbling stops and the roux has turned only lightly brown. Other recipes call for the roux is dark brown, which can take 20-30 minutes.

Add the vegetables, except the green onions, and seasonings. Simmer until vegetables are tender. Stir in the fish stock, bring to a simmer and stir until it thickens, about 15 minutes.

Add the green onions and second stick of butter; bring back to a simmer and then remove from heat.

Fold in the crawfish, rum or brandy, or brandy extract, cover, let stand 15 minutes.

Serve over rice.

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