San Antonio chef Jason Dady, Urban Cowgirl Sarah Penrod share crawfish secrets, recipes

Photo of Paul Stephen
Crawfish boils are a popular spring ritual for many families along the Gulf Coast.

Crawfish boils are a popular spring ritual for many families along the Gulf Coast.

Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

It's the most wonderful time of the year for crawfish fans. Now through roughly May, mudbugs will be at their most plump and succulent size, and easy to find in area stores and restaurants.

And you can bet in the back yards of many Texas homes, there will be a giant kettle over a roaring propane flame ready to boil those tasty crustaceans into a spicy, messy feast for friends and family this spring.

"I’ve always thought of a crawfish boil as the southern equivalent of a New England clam bake and really those are just excuses to bring friends and family together; so yes, it’s a meal, but deeper than that. It’s a cultural ritual and we use it to connect with others over food," said Sarah Penrod, who runs The Urban Cowgirl food media empire.

A seventh-generation Texan based in the Dallas area, Penrod credits her time in San Antonio as personal chef for legendary Spurs point guard Tony Parker and his then-wife Eva Longoria as her big break in the food world. These days, she keeps busy running The Urban Cowgirl food blog and YouTube channel. She's also penned a cookbook of the same name, and has appeared on Food Network. 

Penrod has long been a crawfish enthusiast, and has featured the seasonal delicacy in several recipes on her blog. They're a versatile ingredient, she argues, that can have wide applications in the kitchen.

"Pretty much any dish with shrimp you can substitute with crawfish," she said. "They are excellent in pastas with lemon and butter."

On 4 classic Louisiana crawfish dishes for live crawfish season

Crawfish are now for sale at Groomer's Seafood in San Antonio.

Crawfish are now for sale at Groomer's Seafood in San Antonio.

Paul Stephen/Staff

And on the off chance there are any left over after that big boil, they're a gift that keeps on giving.

"I make lots of recipes with crawfish saved from backyard crawfish boils," she said. "I always buy 5-10 pounds more than I need and freeze them for recipes like étouffée, gumbo, crawfish fettuccine or get creative with crawfish deviled eggs."

For crawfish newcomers, Penrod has a key piece of advice when working with those tails in a recipe.

"One of the more important things that shouldn’t be overlooked is removing the vein in the crawfish tail," she said. "If you tried crawfish and it was fishy or muddy tasting, I would bet the vein wasn’t removed. Like shrimp, they have a vein that runs up the back and it has to peeled out or it can pollute the fresh briny flavor."

This week, we have three recipes featuring crawfish to share, including Penrod's elegant Crawfish Deviled Eggs. San Antonio chef and restaurateur Jason Dady has contributed his take on a Viet-Cajun crawfish boil, which marries the familiar flavors of Louisana with fish sauce, lemongrass and a fistful of fresh herbs. And if you feel like getting your Jazz Fest groove on, we have a version of the iconic Crawfish Monica that's famously served to countless revellers every year.

You can most reliably find live crawfish at Groomer's Seafood at 9801 McCullough Ave. near the San Antonio International Airport, which has a large tray of mudbugs ready for you to pluck out with tongs and drop into a plastic bag-lined box. They're also available both fresh and frozen and Central Market and H-E-B locations. Wherever you're shopping, they tend to sell out quick, so be sure to call ahead if you plan on cooking any of these delightful dishes.

Chef Jason Dady's Viet-Cajun Crawfish Boil

Chef Jason Dady's Viet-Cajun Crawfish Boil

Paul Stephen/Staff

Chef Jason Dady's Viet-Cajun Crawfish Boil

San Antonio chef and restaurateur Jason Dady may be best known for the Texas-inspired fare served at his downtown chophouse Range and barbecue joint Two Bros BBQ Market, his take on Italian cuisine at Tre Trattoria and playful Mediterranean dishes at Jardín. But when crawfish season rolls around, he looks to the Louisiana-meets-Asia flavors found in Viet-Cajun cuisine for this vibrant crawfish boil.

  • 2 pounds butter
  • 4 stalks lemongrass, smashed and finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup ginger, grated
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 1/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 cup chopped mint
  • 1/2 cup Thai basil
  • 1 pound (or to taste) crawfish boil seasoning of choice
  • 10 pounds crawfish

Instructions: Melt the butter in a large saucepan and add the lemongrass, ginger, fish sauce, lime juice, cilantro, mint and Thai basil. Stir to combine and set aside.

Fill a large seafood boil pot with 5 gallons of water and add the crawfish boil seasoning. Bring to a boil and add the crawfish. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then turn off the heat and let the crawfish soak for 5-15 minutes, depending on how spicy you want them. Drain the crawfish and transfer them from the pot to a large bowl. Toss the crawfish with the butter and herb sauce and serve.

Makes 4 servings

From chef Jason Dady

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The Urban Cowgirl's Crawfish Deviled Eggs

The Urban Cowgirl's Crawfish Deviled Eggs

Sarah Penrod/The Urban Cowgirl

The Urban Cowgirl's Crawfish Deviled Eggs

Sarah Penrod, the force behind The Urban Cowgirl cookbook, food blog and YouTube channel, says these upscale deviled eggs are the perfect way to bring a taste of New Orleans to any family dinner or backyard barbecue. And the rewards are quick: the dish takes less than 20 minutes to prepare.

Deviled Eggs

  • 12 eggs
  • 1 stalk of celery, finely diced
  • 1 green onion, finely diced
  • 4 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons Creole mustard, such as Zatarain’s
  • 1/4 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon Crystal Hot Sauce

Crawfish Topping

  • 1 (12-ounce) package of crawfish tails, defrosted if frozen
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 tablespoon green onions, chopped finely
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon Louisiana hot sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon Cajun or Creole seasoning salt

For the deviled eggs: Place all the eggs in a medium pot and fill with water until the eggs are well covered. Set over high heat and cook until the water comes to a gentle boil. Boil for 2 minutes, then shut off the heat, cover the pot and start a timer for 11 minutes.

Place a colander in the sink. As soon as the timer goes off, drain the eggs into the colander. Under warm running water, crack the eggs and remove their shell. Place all of the boiled eggs into a bowl.

Cut each egg in half and remove the yellow yolk to a small bowl. Place each egg white half on a plate and chill in the refrigerator.

Place the celery, green onion, mayonnaise, mustard, Cajun seasoning and Crystal Hot Sauce in the bowl of cooked egg yolks. Mash well with a fork until no lumps remain. Taste for seasoning. Chill for 15-30 minutes.

For the crawfish topping: Melt the butter in a skillet and add the remaining ingredients. Cook until the crawfish topping becomes fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Let the topping sit until it isn't quite as hot before preparing the eggs. Just warm to room temperature is best.

Fill each egg half with a generous amount of deviled egg filling. Top each deviled egg with the crawfish topping. Garnish with a sprinkling of additional Cajun seasoning, if desired, and serve immediately.

Makes 12 deviled eggs

From Sarah Penrod of The Urban Cowgirl

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Crawfish Monica

Crawfish Monica

Paul Stephen/Staff

Crawfish Monica

Crawfish Monica earned its fame after chef Pierre Hilzim, owner of Kajun Kettle Foods, debuted the dish at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in the 1980s. Named for his wife, Monica, the dish is now the best-known food served at the festival, which kicks off April 28. While Hilzim is quite protective of his recipe, this family-style version is a close approximation.

  • 1 pound rotini pasta
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onions
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons Creole seasoning blend
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 pound crawfish tails
  • 1/2 cup green onions, chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped  
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Instructions: Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid. Return to the pot and toss with the olive oil and reserved cooking liquid. Cover to keep warm.

In a large sauté pan or skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, Creole seasoning, salt and cayenne and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the white wine and cook over high heat until nearly all evaporated. Add the cream and lemon juice and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly reduced. Add the crawfish tails and cook, stirring, to warm through. Add the onions and parsley and cook for 1 minute. Add the cooked pasta and toss to coat with the sauce. Cook until the pasta is warmed through, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and add 1/2 cup of the cheese.

Turn out into a large serving bowl and top with the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese and serve.

Makes 6 servings

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