To me, the perfect Louisiana holiday meal starts with a soup: duck gumbo, turtle soup, sweet potato & andouille bisque, or maybe an old-fashioned, simple creamy oyster stew. Why not succumb to the ambitious-holiday-cooking bug and tackle crawfish bisque this year? It is surely one of the jewels of Cajun & Creole cooking, yet it seems to be fading from the home-cooking repertoire. Frozen, peeled crawfish tails and a food processor make this labor-intensive dish slightly less onerous than it was in great-grandma’s day, but crawfish bisque is still the sort of complex, multi-step cooking perfect for long vacation days and leisurely dinners.
Not to be confused with pureed, silky-smooth, French-style creamy bisque, a Louisiana crawfish bisque is a dark, reddish-brown, roux based stew, teeming with crawfish tail meat and boulettes (small dumplings) of seasoned, ground crawfish and breadcrumbs. Traditionally, the stuffing fills cleaned crawfish heads, adding a festive, bright-red splash to each bowl. I don’t bother with the head, instead shaping the stuffing into oblong quenelles baked to a golden brown prior to their dip into the bisque. If you compare bisque recipes, you’ll find lots of “cheffy” recipes using seafood stock–another step I skip, simply because I use twice as much crawfish as the restaurant-driven bisque recipes. All those extra crawfish bobbing in the pot will make their own stock, right on the spot.
So track down some peeled Louisiana crawfish tails (try Rouse’s Supermarkets; look for “Kourtney’s Best” or “D&D” brands), sharpen your favorite knife, and hit “shuffle” on your Christmas playlist. A good bisque takes time…but the results are worth it.
My crawfish bisque
Boulettes (or stuffed heads)
- 1 cup celery, cut into chunks
- 1-1/2 cups onion, roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup bell pepper, cut into chunks
- 4 cloves garlic, sliced
- 2 T butter
- 1/2 cup parsley
- 1 lbs peeled Louisiana crawfish tail meat (frozen is fine)
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 cups plain, dry breadcrumbs (plus 2-3 T, if needed)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp cracked black pepper
- 1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper
- 1/4 tsp ground thyme
- 1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place celery, onion, bell pepper, and garlic into a food processor fitted with a chopping blade. Process in pulses until finely chopped (but take care not to puree the items into mush). Heat 2 T butter in a medium skillet; add finely chopped vegetables to the skillet and saute until lightly browned. Return the sauteed vegetables to the food processor and add crawfish and parsley, pulsing to coarsely chop the crawfish; allow a few crawfish to remain nearly whole. Scrape food processor’s contents into a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix well with a large spoon or hands until cohesive. Shape into 65-70 oblong dumplings (or stuff into cleaned crawfish heads). Arrange on a baking sheet; bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and reserve for addition to the bisque once it is complete.
- 3/4 cup peanut oil (or other neutral vegetable oil)
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 2 cups onion, finely chopped
- 1-1/2 cups red, green, and yellow bell peppers, finely chopped
- 1-1/2 cups celery
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 3-4 quarts water
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 3 lbs peeled crawfish
- 3/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp Zatarain’s liquid crab boil
- 4-5 fresh bay leaves, lightly crushed
- 3 T fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 tsp ground allspice
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1 cup chopped parsley
- 2 bunches green onion, chopped
In a 9 quart or larger heavy-bottomed pot, heat peanut oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Add flour, whisking to prevent lumps. Continue cooking the roux, stirring constantly, until dark brown. Stir chopped onions into the roux; cook, stirring frequently. When onions are beginning to brown, add bell peppers, celery, and garlic. Cook until vegetables soften, stirring often to prevent sticking. Add 3 quarts water all at once while stirring vigorously; increase heat to high. Once the liquid reaches a simmer, add tomato paste, crawfish, cayenne pepper, salt, crab boil, bay leaves, lemon juice, allspice, and cloves. Bring to a rolling boil, then reduce to a gentle boil, just above a simmer. Cook for 1 hour, stirring from time to time. Once the foaming subsides, skim excess oil off the surface and discard. Add more water if bisque becomes too thick. Add parsley, green onions, and baked boulettes (or stuffed heads). Cook for an additional 30-45 minutes. Serve hot, over rice, in wide soup plates garnished with additional freshly chopped green onions.
Serves 10-15 as an entree, or 20-25 as an appetizer portion. Holds well in a crockpot, too, so you can take it along to Mamere’s house.
Joyeux Noel! May your holidays be filled with Louisiana sweet oranges, fig preserves on hot biscuits, tartes a la bouillie and cafe au lait, homemade gumbo, and friends & family….