Bayou hallelujah

Life isn’t fair, and sometimes that works out in your favor. Just ask the Catholics who live in south Louisiana. Fish on Fridays may count as mortification of the flesh in certain land-locked locales, but I’ve never heard anyone in bayou country complain about being deprived of red meat and/or poultry.

It’s even harder to deny the moral slipperiness of fish as penance when you consider how we choose to celebrate after forty days of Lenten “fasting.” In most places, Easter alleluias are followed by a mid-day meal featuring some kind of roast beast—a leg of lamb, perhaps a ham. But in my family, the fruits of the bayou remain at the center of the table.

So, let us raise up crawfish bisque. Keep your chocolate bunnies; for me this is the taste of Easter. It’s made of ingredients that can be found in any number of common Cajun dishes, but its preparation is so labor-intensive that I’m about as likely to construct a multi-tiered wedding cake from scratch as I am to try my hand at it. So I will not attempt a recipe, but for those poor souls who have no idea what I’m talking about, the basic architecture is as follows:

1. Start with a pile of crawfish. Pull off the tails, then use your fingernails to split the undersides of the shells and extract the tail meat and fat. Each hard-shelled crustacean will yield about a teaspoon of meat—maybe. The other part of the animal—“the head”—encloses various organs and is studded with a number of appendages. Get rid of everything, inside and out, except a large (relatively speaking) hollow curl of shell, between one and two inches long and just under an inch in diameter. 

2. Mince the tail meat fine with binding agents and seasonings. These will undoubtedly include the “holy trinity” of Creole cooking: onion, bell pepper, celery, in roughly equal proportions. The other ingredients vary from cook to cook, but the final mixture is sure to be highly seasoned.

3. Using a very small spoon, stuff this mixture back into the cleaned shells, each of which will hold approximately one bite. 

4. Make a dark roux and use this as a base for a rich brown gravy. Add any leftover crawfish and seasonings. Simmer the stuffed shells in the gravy. Serve over white rice.

It’s easy to see why this dish belongs to the feast, and I suppose one might make the case that a simpler seafood preparation could still properly be considered fasting. Except. I’m not sure we Louisianians grasp the concept of a non-celebratory meal. 

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