It’s crawfish season in Louisiana, so fire up those boiling pots
Cajuns tell the story of lobsters living off Canada’s Atlantic Coast that had yearned so much for the Acadians exiled from Nova Scotia in the 1700s that they journeyed over land and sea to find them. By the time the lobsters arrived in Louisiana, the crustaceans had drastically diminished in size due to their arduous travels. Nevertheless, the people held a great festival and named the tiny lobsters crawfish.
Storytelling is a hallmark of Cajun culture, but in truth, Native Americans were harvesting crawfish from Louisiana’s wetlands hundreds of years before the Acadians arrived. Native Americans may have taught Acadians their method of catching crawfish–also called mudbugs–by baiting a reed with venison and dipping it into the water.
But by the 1930s, locals replaced reeds with nets, and later, with traps. These harvesting techniques are still used today.
In some areas of Louisiana, crawfish production is partnered with rice farming. After the grain crop is harvested in the summer and the weather cools, rice fields are flooded for crawfish. As you drive along Louisiana highways during the crawfish season (January through May), you may spot white-topped crawfish traps floating in flooded rice fields.
According to the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, there are about 1,000 crawfish farmers in the state, with another 800 commercial fishermen who catch wild crawfish. Louisiana, in fact, provides 90 percent of the crawfish consumed in the U.S., harvesting about 110 million pounds each year.
It’s said that crawfish étouffée was created in Breaux Bridge. In fact, the community was the first to serve crawfish in restaurants. In 1959, the Louisiana legislature bestowed the title of Crawfish Capital of the World on the town during its centennial year.
A jubilant anniversary celebration gave birth in 1960 to the now famous Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival. Originally a street festival, the annual three-day event is now held in Parc Hardy. About 35,000 enthusiastic fans of crawfish and Cajun fare and music attend the festival, which is the first weekend in May (this year, May 2–4).
Newcomers join festival veterans each year as they gather in front of stages to listen and dance to Cajun and Zydeco music, and amble from booth to booth as they taste crawfish dishes. A colorful parade, crawfish races, and a carnival midway add to the fun.
Lodging options in Breaux Bridge include B&Bs such as the Isabelle Inn or Maison Des Amis. Motel chains also are present, as are campgrounds.
After settling in, sample savory Cajun cuisine at several inviting restaurants, including Pont Breaux’s Cajun Restaurant (AAA Two Diamonds) and Café Des Amis (AAA Two Diamonds). Spirited Cajun music and dancing are available at these eateries, but there are several appealing dance venues in town.
Attractions and shops
Pick up a walking tour map at the Bayou Teche Visitors Center, (314 E. Bridge St.). One of the stops is City Park. Note the 200-year-old oaks that stand along the banks of the bayou that are registered with the Live Oak Society. On Berard Street, you’ll find a statue of the city’s founder, Scholastique Picou Breaux, a forward-thinking woman credited with drawing up plans for the town.
There are a surprising number of distinctive shops in downtown Breaux Bridge. You’ll find official crawfish festival souvenirs and T-shirts at Precious Past, as well as an array of merchandise ranging from dish towels to dog collars.
At first glance, Joie de Vivre is a standard coffee shop, but here you’ll find woven baskets made by African Zulu women, metal work from Haiti, Cajun washboard instruments, and other local crafts.
As you walk around Jeanne’s Gifts, you’ll spot crawfish-decorated baby bibs, drinking cups and platters, plus potholders with crawfish recipes.
The walls of Marilyn’s Fine Jewelry are lined with antique grandfather clocks, but her main focus is the jewelry she designs and manufactures. Among her creations are necklaces and bracelets with crawfish charms.
For the traveler ready to let the good times roll, Breaux Bridge is an excellent choice.
Mary Fonseca is a contributor from Metairie, La. Turn the page for tasty crawfish recipes.
Mar/Apr 2014 Issue
First, wash the crawfish. If you bought a sack of crawfish, wash off the sack. Then empty the crawfish into a big bin of clean water. Use a paddle to stir the crawfish, then let them sit in the water for 30 minutes.
Discard dead crawfish (which will float to the top) and strain the water. Rinse with clean water and keep crawfish in a shady spot until you’re ready to boil them.
Next, light the outdoor cooking flame. Use an outdoor gas burner, patio stove, or a propane burner to make the boil. Have equipment sturdy enough to heat up to a 60-gallon pot of water.
Fill the pot halfway with water. Put it on the burner or stove and let it heat to a boil. Stir in the juice of 8 lemons and peels, as well as the crawfish seasoning. Bring back to a boil.
Next, add the vegetables: onions, new potatoes (chunk them into bite-sized pieces), corn, and garlic.
Now, it’s time for the crawfish. Lower the crawfish basket into the boiling water and boil for five minutes. The vegetables will continue to cook under or around the basket. Turn off the heat, put the lid on top of the pot, and let the crawfish cook for another 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, lift the lid and check to see if the crawfish are done. The best test is to remove a crawfish and eat it (be careful; it’s hot). If the texture is rubbery, the crawfish need more time.
It’s best to enjoy a crawfish boil outdoors; it gets messy. Line a picnic table with newspapers, set out plenty of napkins and paper towels, some bowls for the shells, and butter, salt, or additional Cajun seasoning.
Tradition calls for the vegetables to be dumped onto the table with the crawfish on top. Recipe courtesy wikihow.com
Add onion, celery, green pepper, and garlic. Cook until tender crisp, two or three minutes.
Stir in remaining ingredients except the rice. Simmer for 20 minutes. Serve over rice. Makes six servings. Recipe courtesy St. Martin Parish Tourist Commission
Pinch the tail, snap the head. Participants in the crawfish eating contest, part of Breaux Bridge’s festival, show how it’s done. St. Martin Parish Tourist Commission photo
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