Jamba-LIE, Crawfish Pie, Me-Oh My-Oh…Son of a gun, Gon’ have big fun, on da bay-oh! Sing it with me, Pirates! And a happy, maritimey Mardi Gras to you all. Con gracias to el Nino, New Orleans is about to have her second-warmest Mardi Gras on record. That calls for a sail on the lake! And a sail on the lake calls for hand-pies. We’ve sung their praises before, these little one-handed wonders that put a savory, delicious gourmet casserole wrapped in flakey pie crust in your hand with the ease of a boring old granola bar. Get your pirate beads on and let’s go whip us up a batch full of mudbugs.
Crawfish Pies Pour La Main
For the crust:
2-1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks cold butter
3/8 cup sour cream
1/4 cup ice water
For the filling:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 small onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 small green pepper, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
3 green onions, sliced
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons flour
3/4 cup stock
Zest and juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 pound Louisiana crawfish tail meat, cooked
Salt, pepper, and hot sauce
So last Sunday the warm weather got to our neighbor Terri and she summoned us for a neighborhood crawfish boil. While February does commence crawfish harvesting season in Southeast Loiusiana, it’s still usually a little cool for the backyard boil, but not this year! So we showed up to a big, steaming pot full of the “seasoning vegetables” — corn, potatoes, garlic, celery, onions, sausage (pigs eat vegetables…sausage is a vegetable derivative) — and a wheelbarrow full of live crawdads. This one was either stepping off the campaign plane a-la Tricky Dick, or signaling SOS to whomever might get him out of this plight.
If you don’t have a backyard boil, you should be able to find crawfish tail meat in the freezer of a good fishmonger. Let me IMPLORE you to get Louisiana crawfish — not just state pride, it is frozen closer to the source which keeps the delectable fat in the head and around the tail meat from going rancid. The Chinese purveyors mostly remove this fat for longer freezer life, but then you lose so much flavor. If all you can find is Chinese, try to use a good shrimp or other fish stock in the filling recipe to up the fish flavor.
First make your pie crust dough. Mix the dry ingredients in a food processor, then cut in the two sticks of cold butter. Yes, two sticks of butter — you know what comes after Mardi Gras? LENT…you can give butter up then. Cut the cold butter into 16 or so smaller chunks, then pulse with the flour in the food processor until the mixture is “sandy” with no-larger-than-pea-sized bits of butter.
Transfer the flour/butter mixture to a large bowl. Note…if you don’t have a food processor or, like mine, it ended up being too small to be effective for this chore, there is always the old-fashioned pastry knife. If you have one, I’m guessing you know how to use it…of course if your mother gave it to you years ago and it has lived unused in “that drawer”…you just work that knife in there over and over until you get that butter mixed in uniformly.
Add the sour cream and about half (1/8 cup) of the ice water. Now take off your rings, wash your hands, and get them in there. This is inescapable with pie crust dough — your hands warm the butter so that you end up ONLY using as much water as you really need to get the dough to stick together, which keeps the finished product flaky. Otherwise, you will end up with too much water, cardboard dough, and clumps of butter burned in the crust. Rub that sour cream and ice water in with your fingers JUST until the whole thing can be convinced to stick together…
Like so. Wrap this in plastic wrap and chill it for at least an hour in the average galley icebox (minimum 30 minutes in a home refrigerator).
To make the filling, we start — as with almost any Cajun/Creole dish — with the Holy Trinity: onions, celery, and bell pepper. Sautee these in the olive oil and butter until soft. I like to add a little salt at this point because it causes the onions to sweat and the whole thing melts into the small amount of liquid.
Add the garlic, green onions, and parsley, and stir over medium heat for a few minutes until softened and combined.
Sprinkle a couple tablespoons of flour over the vegetables and stir to incorporate well.
Now add the liquids — stock, lemon juice and zest, and Worcestershire — and stir over medium heat for 5 minutes or so to thicken a bit. By the way, chicken or vegetable stock are fine for this, but I like a shellfish or fish stock.
Stir in the crawfish meat — if the tail pieces are much bigger than, say, the top bit of your pinky finger, chop them up a bit. You need the mixture to sit down in the pies and not have huge chunks in the way of the fold. Our tails weren’t huge — early in the season — so I used them whole. Give this a few minutes (5, 10…really doesn’t matter too much) over medium heat to warm the crawfish and let the sauce cook down to a goo rather than a liquid.
While the pie dough chills and the filling cools to room temperature, head down the bayou for an afternoon sail. Eddy was keeping an eye out for gators on the bow, but seems to be heading back, smelling something good from the galley!
Passing a sunning turtle on the way down the bayou…makes me want to make turtle soup. (Sorry Caroline…and all you Maryland-based Terrapin fans.)
Finally, out into the lake — we are about a MILE up a tiny but blessedly deep bayou. It feels like a Disney “Bayou Ride” as you head into the swamp — the chart plotter doesn’t even show a body of water! But they had ZERO damage during Hurricane Katrina, being that far up. So we’ll make the trek.
With the sails up and other deck responsibilities complete, back to the galley to finish up the pies. Divide the pie dough into eight parts and, if you can manage the counter-vs-icebox-lid dance, keep the parts not in use chilled while you work to roll one out to a six inch circle.
Put a few tablespoons of filling toward one side.
Fold the circle over and crimp the dough closed well with your fingers. You can also do damage repair at this point — pulling a bit of dough off from corners where there’s more than enough to close holes and weak spots. Your pies won’t be pretty, but they will stay intact! You can brush these with egg wash (one egg beaten with a tablespoon of water) to give them a professional looking shine at the end, but I had a hungry crew mutiny building, so skipped that step!
Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes, until browned on the edges. Let them cool significantly if you want to handle them manually, or serve with a fork steaming hot…they’ll be a little squishy while still warm. If you want to be decadent, a little sour cream and some chives, bacon bits, parsley, etc. make nice toppings.
Watch out for hungry pelicans — he might be the state bird, but he can get his own crawfish…I seriously think I heard him squawk “THROW ME SOMETHIN’ MISTER!”