I had a close friend who was Cajun and he once took me to a small village in southern Louisiana where he grew up, not too far from the town of St. Martinville, famous for the statue of Evangeline, the High Priestess of myth and poetic legend among the Cajun and a powerful symbol of the Acadian diaspora. (The real person’s name was Emmeline Labiche, and the truth is better than Romeo and Juliet, but that’s a story for the next cookbook.) I had written about the Cajun people in a novel so I was familiar with their culture, food and society. One reason for my passion for Cajun food is that my mother’s side of the family has roots in the French Canadian community and thus… are the remnants of the Acadian people, who were cast out of their homes and lands by the English army in 1755 to wander unwanted along the Eastern seaboard of America for decades. They finally found a home in the bayous of Louisiana, so it’s completely understandable that traditionally the Cajuns are a people who wanted to be left in peace.
The Cajuns have always been a traditional community, not easy for strangers to dive inside. They have their own unique ways of living, are proud of their French patois and are private in many ways… but full of life. When my friend and I finally arrived in town about 9pm we were hungry and he took me driving deeper into the night and the swamps, until we saw lights along a little waterway. His family and friends owned this low slung cafe/roadhouse, which was right on the bayou, with a dock alongside for the shrimp boats and the fishermen that netted crayfish, which the Cajuns call Mud Bugs. It was a family place, strictly for locals, and casually featured a local family that sang songs in their French patois and played the Zydeco. When our friends in Cajun country and New Orleans call crawfish “mudbugs”, it is definitely a term of endearment. Here is their authentic and deeply rich umami bomb called Crawfish Pie.
(Retold from our new cookbook, Our Wild Savory Kitchen)
We have crawfish tails shipped to us from CajunGrocer.com, they arrive frozen on dry ice and are perfect for our Crawfish Pie.
2 pounds crawfish tails, already peeled
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups red or green bell peppers, chopped to 1/2 to 3/4 inch pieces (we use both colors, it’s more fun, as is the entire Cajun culture)
1 cup celery, chopped to same size pieces as peppers (we use the inside heart of the celery, not the outside large watery stalks, because the heart is more intense with flavor and tender in texture)
2 cups sweet onion, chopped to same size pieces as peppers
1 1/2 cups fresh tomatoes, chopped to same size pieces as peppers
4 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 1/2 cups crayfish broth, ALREADY reduced (we boil down crawfish shells from a crawfish boil, or you can use clam or shrimp or seafood broth)
1/2 cup Italian parsley, chopped
4 tablespoons flour, (rice flour or wheat flour)
4 ounces butter, (1 stick, 4 oz., or 1/2 cup)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 already prepared and baked pie crusts in pie pans
1 teaspoon Cayenne pepper
2 teaspoon smoked Spanish sweet paprika
1 teaspoon file’ powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 teaspoon dried basil leaves
1 to 2 teaspoons salt (the salt flavor can be be adjusted to taste before baking, we usually use 2 teaspoons)
1 teaspoon black pepper, crushed
1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
1 teaspoon white pepper corns, ground
Dissolve the flour in the warm seafood broth and allow to cool and thicken.
In a 12 to 14 inch saute’ or fry pan, (cast iron is best), melt the butter and when hot but not yet smoking, add the onions. Allow to simmer until fully coated with butter, and then add the celery and bell peppers. Saute on high temperature, stirring often, until the onions are opaque and the bell peppers are softened, about 5 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, garlic and vinegar, sprinkle on the Cajun seasoning, stir well together, and saute’ for another 2 minutes.
Now add the seafood broth with the dissolved flour and allow to sizzle and de-glaze the fry pan, and when cooled this will produce a light roux.
Reduce the heat and add the cream, crawfish and parsley and simmer for 2 minutes until thickened.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool, about 20 minutes, while you heat the oven to 375 degrees. We now bake the crust for 10 to 12 minutes, until it just begins to turn brown at the edges. Remove and allow to cool.
After the filling has cooled a bit and the crust is also somewhat cooled, spoon the crawfish filling into the prepared pie crusts.
These two pies are ready for baking!
Bake for 20 minutes at 375 degrees until the edges of the crust and the mudbugs are golden brown.
Allow to cool and serve warm. Ca c’est bon! Lagniappe fais do-do!
For each batch combine 1 ¼ cup flour, ½ tsp salt and 1/2 tsp sugar in a Cuisinart. Pulse briefly to mix ingredients. Remove one stick of butter from the freezer and slice it with a sharp knife into thin slabs. Add the butter slabs one at a time, while pulsing the Cuisinart to make a kind of cornmeal like mixture (this is why the butter needs to be frozen solid).
Then SLOWLY add ¼ cup ice water (you may need less). The water should come out in drips while the Cuisinart is on. You will see that the mixture will just start to form into clumps, shut off the Cuisinart as soon as this happens.
Remove mixture and form into a nice ball, adding a little flour if it is sticky. Cover with Saran Wrap and put in the refrigerator for 30-60 minutes (or you can make the crust the day before).
When ready, place the dough ball on a lightly floured surface of wax paper. Using a rolling pin, make a thin pie crust that will fit nicely into a standard pie dish. Distribute pie crust weights evenly or poke crust all over with a fork. This will keep the center of your crust from ballooning up while it bakes.
Place both pie crusts into the pre-heated oven at 375 degrees and bake for about 12 minutes. Keep an eye on them, you want the crust to be crispy but just slightly browned.