Tales of the Tail: Louisiana's Crawfish History
In Louisiana, crawfish is more than a delicacy, it's a food group.
To understand the significance of crawfish in Louisiana, one only has to take a drive on the Friday before Easter with their windows down. Propane tanks can be heard burning under huge pots of boiling water filled with seasonings and crawfish, as the pots are being slowly stirred by hungry yet patient devotees in backyards throughout the state.
In Louisiana, crawfish is more than a local delicacy—it’s a dedicated food group and residents mark its season on their calendars. It is the centerpiece of springtime birthday parties, graduation celebrations and family gatherings and it is the culinary highlight for many visitors.
The history of crawfish intersects with Louisiana’s agriculture and religion, both integral parts of the state’s identity. According to Chef Patrick Mould, owner of Louisiana Culinary Enterprises and a Cajun cuisine ambassador, crawfish were first harvested from the waters of the Atchafalaya Basin and later became a farmed commodity when farmers turned their flooded rice fields into crawfish ponds to meet demand.
The crustacean is the gastronomic anchor of the Lenten season during which Catholics abstain from meat on Fridays. However it has only been the past few decades that backyard boils have grown exponentially in popularity, says Mould. In the 1980s, technological advances changed menus and parties forever because live crawfish could then be shipped safely around the country, subsequently generating a groundswell of popularity. Imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery, but as Chef Mould says, “If you want to suck some crawfish heads and peel some crawfish tails, the only place to do it is in Louisiana.”
More crawfish history was made when, on March 7, 2017, Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser proclaimed Emile the crawfish as safe from boiling at Zatarain's first crawfish pardoning event in New Orleans. Named after the Louisiana company's founder Emile Zatarain, Emile the crawfish was set free in Bayou Segnette State Park to enjoy a life free from worry of becoming part of a delicious Cajun feast.
Crawfish season generally peaks in April but depending on weather, crawfish season can start as early as November and last through the following June. To experience a crawfish boil is to experience everything that makes Louisiana a traveler’s delight: the authenticity of the culture, the joie de vivre, or joy of life, of the locals and the most delicious and varied food to be found without crossing an ocean. Learn tricks to eating crawfish from the locals.
Have a hankering for crawfish but can’t locate a backyard boil? Restaurants across the state serve up this same experience. Boiled crawfish is offered by the pound—three pounds is a good starting serving size—with the customary sides of corn on the cob, potatoes and maybe sausage or mushrooms which are boiled with the crawfish to soak up the flavor. If you prefer your crawfish served with a side of music, check out the many crawfish festivals throughout the state—including the largest in Breaux Bridge, the Crawfish Capital of the World.
To get the full bayou-to-table experience, try your hand at crawfishing at Crawfish Haven/Mrs. Rose's Bed & Breakfast - a bed and breakfast near Lafayette that offers Crawfish Excursions, Cajun Cooking Classes and Cajun Dinner Specials prepared by owner Barry Toups, who has won many awards for his cooking skills. Louisiana is waiting to welcome you and pass a good time.
You can find crawfish just about anywhere in the state, but a good start is the Bayou Country Crawfish Trail - which features dozens of stops serving up crawfish dishes from po'boys and gumbos to boiled and live crawfish. Be sure to save your receipts as you travel the Trail and submit them to receive a free Crawfish Trail T-shirt!