Crawfish Étouffée

In Cajun country, crawfish was for a long time considered a poor man’s food.  The little critters were known as an agricultural pest, and hardly anyone would admit to fixing them at home, let alone be brave enough to put them on a restaurant menu.  They finally went public in 1935 when a glorious crawfish étouffée was the first dish served at a levee bar around Henderson called Bernard’s.  Now crawfish are treated with the respect they deserve – in fact, every other year the little Cajun community of Breaux Bridge swells to over 300,000 people when it holds its International Crawfish Festival the first weekend in May.

2 cups (1 pound) butter
2 ounces crawfish fat (or as much as you can get)
3 large onions, chopped fine  
1 cup water
2 bell peppers, chopped fine 
2 pounds fresh crawfish tails
2 teaspoons salt 
1 cup green onions, finely chopped
¾ teaspoon ground red pepper½ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
½ teaspoon ground black pepper 
½ teaspoon ground white pepper 

Melt butter in a Dutch oven or other large heavy pot; add the onions and bell peppers, and sauté over medium-high heat.  Brown well, being sure to scrape the bottom of the pot frequently to loosen any stuck particles.  (You want to caramelize the onions to bring out their sweetness.)  This process will take about 45 minutes.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the salt, peppers, crawfish fat, and water.  Stir well and let simmer 30 minutes more.  (You can prepare the dish in advance to this point; about 30 minutes before serving, reheat the mixture over medium-high heat.)

Raise the heat to medium, stir in the crawfish, and cook for 10 minutes.  Then add the green onions and parsley and let cook for another 5 minutes.  Place generous servings of hot cooked rice in the middle of large flat plates and spoon the crawfish all around.

Serves 6.