ROBERT ST JOHN: A plethora of crawfish for lovers of seafood

By Robert St. John

Weatherwise, it’s been a crazy four weeks to start the year, almost as erratic as the four weeks that ended 2012. Anytime Jim Cantore is in your hometown on Christmas day – and he’s not visiting relatives – you are in trouble.
At the Purple Parrot Café we started a construction project on Nov. 12, and due to the rain weren’t able to continue until Jan. 22. Last week it was freezing and snowing all over central and northern Mississippi. This week there is a Japanese Magnolia in front of the Mississippi State Capital in full bloom, the crape myrtles are budding, and my wife is breaking out the Bob Marley music on her iPhone – the three most reliable signs that spring is just around the corner.
It’s only a trick, though. Don’t buy into this beautiful weather thing. It will get cold again, and it will be, most assuredly, after we have put up our winter clothes for the season.
The one positive we can take from this wet winter is we are due to enjoy the best crawfish season we have seen in years, and possibly the best I have witnessed in my 25 years in business.
A perfect storm for crawfish is brewing out there in the swamps and rice paddies and we are gong to be the beneficiaries.
According to four or five suppliers and farmers in Louisiana there is already an overabundance of crawfish. That is unheard of this early in the season.
What we are seeing are optimum conditions – a lot of rain, a good hatch, and moderate temperatures (a hard freeze kills a good hatch). This is a forebearer of great days to come for mudbug fans.
According to one of our largest seafood suppliers, farmers who haven’t produced in four or five years are getting back into the game and already have crawfish available. Fellow restaurateurs in New Orleans were boiling crawfish a few weeks ago. I have never seen this many crawfish available this early in the season.
Ground zero for crawfish production takes place in and around the Atchafalaya River Basin Spillway. At the spillway, water is diverted off the river supplying the swamps and rice paddies with muddy, nutrient-rich water.
The crawfish farms are where the early crawfish are harvested, it’s not until after Easter – and the melting snow from up north has made its way to our part of the world – that we begin to eat the “spillway crawfish.”
Late in the season, the crawfish come from the marshes (a 15-mile stretch between the marsh and the river). We don’t always get a “marsh season,” but when we do, the crawfish are available into June.
As long as there is water moving through the spillway the crawfish are good. If the water is stagnant the crawfish lose quality.
So, while watching the Superbowl in a short-sleeved shirt, try one of these recipes using fresh crawfish. And make the best of what appears to be one of the best crawfish seasons ever.
Robert St. John is a restaurateur, chef and author of numerous books.