Citizens, the Caliph of Cajun, the Duke of ‘Downhome’ – YOUR TFD! – always looks forward to the turning of the new year when Crawfish are once again in season and the urge to set up a Cajun crawfish boil becomes nigh unbearable! Since I am fortunate to live near the Sacramento River Delta, local California crawfish are easily available to Me, as are their Bayou cousins from Louisiana – all at their feistiest, sweetest and plumpest ideal! There is truly no better way to serve crawfish than in the Acadian style, IMHO! Unfamiliar with that term? Then prepare for a history lesson on the CANADIAN origins of the Cajuns and a damned fine recipe for this crowd-pleasing dish!
The Acadians of Louisiana, Texas and Alabama are in fact the descendants of the French who settled in Acadia in Canada during the 17th and 18th centuries. Acadia was located in what is now Eastern Canada’s Maritime provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island), as well as parts of Quebec, present-day Maine to the Kennebec River, and on the West coast of Newfoundland.
The origin of the designation Acadia is credited to the explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano, commissioned by King Francis I, who on his 16th-century map applied the ancient Greek name “Arcadia” to the entire Atlantic coast north of Virginia. “Arcadia” derives from the Arcadia district in Greece which since classical antiquity had the extended meanings of “refuge” or “idyllic place”. Samuel de Champlain fixed the orthography with the ‘r’ omitted in the 17th century. The term eventually came to apply only to the northern part of the coast in what is now Canada and New England.
Acadia was a distinctly separate colony of New France. It was ethnically, geographically and administratively different from the other French colonies and the French colony of Canada (modern-day Quebec). As a result, the Acadians developed a distinct history and culture. The settlers whose descendants became Acadians primarily came from the southwestern region of France, also known as Occitania, such as the rural areas of Poitou-Charentes and Aquitaine (Gascony).
During the French and Indian War (the North American theater of the Seven Years’ War), British colonial officers suspected that Acadians were aligned with France, after finding some Acadians fighting alongside French troops at Fort Beauséjour. Though most Acadians remained neutral during the war, the British, together with New England legislators and militia, carried out the Great Expulsion (Le Grand Dérangement) of the Acadians between 1755 and 1764. They forcefully deported approximately 11,500 Acadians from the maritime region and approximately 1/3 perished from disease and drowning – the result has been correctly described as a Canadian ethnic cleansing.
Most Acadians were deported to various British American colonies, where many were put into forced labour or servitude. Some Acadians were deported to England, some to the Caribbean, and some to France. After being expelled to France, many Acadians were eventually recruited by the Spanish government to migrate to Luisiana (present-day Louisiana). Their descendants gradually developed what became known as Cajun culture.
Acadians speak a variety of French called Acadian French. Many of those in the southeastern region of New Brunswick speak Chiac and English. The Louisiana Cajun descendants speak Cajun English. Many also speak Cajun French, a close relative of Acadian French from Canada but influenced by Spanish and the West African languages. Louisiana French is a variety or dialect of the French language spoken primarily in Louisiana. At one time as many as seven dialects were spread across the Cajun heartland.
While Cajuns are often said to speak ‘Cajun French.’ this term is increasingly seen as a misnomer because the dialect did not originate with the Acadians, and Acadian-descended people are not the only ones to speak it. Recent linguistic scholarship has also cast doubt on how much Acadian influence is present in Louisianian dialects today, and the influences that do exist are sometimes regional rather than widespread. For these reasons, the term “Louisiana French” is increasingly preferred.
Recent documentation has been made of Cajun English, a French-influenced dialect of English spoken by Cajuns, either as a second language, in the case of the older members of the community, or as a first language by younger Cajuns.
Estimates of contemporary Acadian populations vary widely. The Canadian census of 2006 reported only 96,145 Acadians in Canada, based on self-declared ethnic identity. However the Canadian Encyclopedia estimates that there are at least 500,000 of Acadian ancestry in Canada, which would include many who declared their ethnic identity for the census as French or as Canadian.
In the United States, the Cajuns are an ethnic group mainly living in the U.S. state of Louisiana. They also live in the Canadian maritimes provinces consisting in part of the descendants of the original Acadian exiles—French-speakers from Acadia (L’Acadie) in what are now the Maritimes of Eastern Canada. In Louisiana, Acadian and Cajun are often used as broad cultural terms without reference to actual descent from the deported Acadians.
Historically, Louisianians of Acadian descent were also considered to be Louisiana Creoles, although Cajun and Creole are often portrayed as separate identities today. Most Cajuns are of French descent and Cajuns make up a significant portion of south Louisiana’s population and have had an enormous impact on the state’s culture. Cajuns were officially recognized by the U.S. government as a national ethnic group in 1980 per a discrimination lawsuit filed in federal district court.
The humble crawfish proved to be an important food for the newly-emigrated Acadians, who had to adjust to the climate and food sources of swamps and bayous – crawfish were plentiful and they quickly discovered that boiling them in a spicy court-bouillon (a modified recipe from their French homeland before emigrating back to North America at Spanish invitation) made the ‘mud bugs’ not only palatable – but DELICIOUS. Adding in corn, potatoes and other foodstuffs made the crawfish boil a humble but complete meal that saved many poor Cajuns from starvation.
Due to Le Grand Dérangement, many Acadians were invited to settle in Louisiana by the Spanish Governor Galvez. Unfamiliar with the terrain, they assimilated Creole and Native American influences into their Acadian traditions. Cajun cuisine focused on local ingredients and wild game (e.g., duck, rabbit), vegetables (e.g., okra, mirlitons), and grains. Coastal communities relied heavily on fish and shellfish. Seafood, especially shellfish, is still very popular in the region and remains a dominant feature of many classic Cajun dishes like seafood gumbo and court-bouillon.
Today, crawfish can be shipped out of the bayous and anywhere nationwide, letting anyone enjoy an authentic Cajun-style crawfish boil – IF and only IF you follow My suggestions, otherwise, you’re just a poseur!
So – as to how many crawfish to buy – the short answer is A LOT.
Usually it’s a safe assumption that you will need at least 3 pounds per person – some Cajuns devour up to 10 pounds or more at a sitting. For anyone else, assume 3 pounds. If you have any leftover crawfish, pick out the meat and freeze it for other Cajun recipes. You want to make sure you have plenty of sausage, corn and potatoes to join the mud bugs in their spicy hot tub of flavor!
Obviously you are going to need a REALLY BIG POT for this process, depending on how many pounds of crawfish you are planning to make – a general rule of thumb is:
- a 30 pound sack of crawfish will need a MINIMUM 60 quart boiling pot.
- a 40 pound sack of crawfish will need a MINIMUM 80 quart boiling pot.
- a 60 pound sack of crawfish will need a MINIMUM 130 quart pot or 2- 60 or 2- 80 quart pots.
If you’re unsure HOW to eat one of these miniature, ill-tempered crustaceans – follow this lead:
- First, grasp the base of the tail in one hand, the head in the other. Give a little push on the tail, which helps separate it from the head, and then twist it sharply. If you’ve twisted properly, and the crawfish was cooked properly, the tail should separate cleanly. Just pull it away from the head.
- Next, suck the head, as that’s where the flavor from the fat and the seasoning is – simply put your lips to the cavity at the base of the head, tip the shell upward slightly and slurp.
- Then, take the first ring segment at the end of the tail (the end recently attached to the head) and pull it off, just like removing the ring from the base of a milk jug’s lid.
- Push the tail meat from the bottom of the shell and pull it out with your fingers (or teeth) from the top, like squeezing toothpaste from a tube.
Have PLENTY of wet-naps, napkins and trash cans/bags available to sweep the discarded shells/bodies into – trust me, you’ll need them!
Note that I have covered several other recipes from around the world regarding crawfish boils outside the classic Cajun version including Sweden, Jiangsu, China, Sichuan, China and Vietnamese-Americans from Houston! What can I say – I LIKE CRAWFISH!
The secret to any TRUE crawfish boil is, of course, the mudbugs themselves. If you aren’t lucky enough to live in California or Louisiana to get the fresh ones straight from the farm (most crayfish eaten today are farmed), just go online and buy what you need! This purveyor is one of my favorites as they sell PURGED live crawfish, a necessity to avoid any nasty grit (or worse) in their intestinal tracts. Be sure and cook the crawfish on the day you buy them or receive them in the mail – they do NOT last long! When cooking crawfish, you’re going to need the proper pot and I also HIGHLY recommend a ‘Boil Boss‘ to help rapidly drop the temp of your boil so it doesn’t get overcooked!
You’ll want to cook this outdoors in classic Cajun fashion (you also don’t want to smell up your kitchen with hot pepper fumes or lingering crawfish odor!) – this kit gives you everything you need, including the pot, the strainer, a cooker and more!
The REAL secret to the classic flavor profile of a proper Cajun crawfish boil is in actuality not so much the crawdads as the SEASONINGS you use to make them – and there are many different options on the market and everyone has their own ‘secret’ blend! My version (arrived at after much research) is a combination of Cajun Crawfish (Crab & Shrimp) Swamp Dust, Zatarain’s liquid boil with onion and garlic flavor and Frugé Cajun Seasoning in My preferred ratios with the addition of dark beer and some seasoning herbs and vegetables.
To enhance the seafood flavor of the Boil, I personally endorse a trick a native Cajun taught me – use some clam juice in the boil liquid to add even more deliciousness to the seasoning liquid – Bar Harbor is my preferred brand. I also amp up the herbaceous aspects of the Boil by throwing in some fresh thyme and fresh tarragon – I find both add a really outstanding flavor profile to the final product! Using a good dark beer in the boil also helps – I prefer London Porter brand, but by all means use your favorite!
The last secret ingredient adds an indefinable ‘meatiness’ to the Boil and is one of My great little tricks adapted from Chinese braising techniques – it’s chicken bouillon powder and trust Me, DO NOT leave it out and you won’t taste anything remotely ‘chicken’ in the final product! My preferred brand is here.
My Citizens, Omicron continues to keep us away from our loved ones and friends – I hope that we will see the worst of this dreadful pandemic behind us starting in the Spring, and I hope you invite ALL of those you cherish to a down-home mudbug Boil as soon as it is safe to do so! 🙂
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
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