Within one hour of arriving the Shreveport Regional Airport Brandy Evans, VP of Communication at the Shreveport-Bossier CVB whisked me away to get down and dirty and indulge in some delicious local cuisine. Known as "Louisiana's Other Side," Shreveport- Bossier is located in northwestern LA about 20 miles from the Texas state line.
We went to Crawfish Palace - the kind of place only locals know about - a big old screened in porch with granite- topped tables that seemed out of context and gigantic bubbling caldrons full of simmering fresh crawfish. Hot, steaming, spicy crawfish are served at a maddening pace here - the kitchen staff can hardly keep up with all of the orders. Gigantic 60 gallon pots filled with crawfish boiled and bubbled away in Cajun crab boil - a spicy blend of paprika, cayenne pepper and other "secret" ingredients. Once cooked, the jumbo pots of crawfish are dumped into insulated ice chests to keep them hot - but that only lasts for a few minutes since they sell so quickly.
Shreveport-Bossier could easily be called "The Crawfish Capital of the Universe" - between the crawfish cult around here and the annual Mudbug Madness Festival in May, it?s a fitting title. Most of the crawfish consumed in restaurants are farm raised. These crustaceans aren't particularly pretty and look like itty-bitty lobsters that are about 2-3 inches long. If you're lucky, you'll hit the jackpot when you find a jumbo crawfish that's a 4-incher with bigger claws that you can actually get some meat out of it.
We kicked off our meal with delicious homemade gumbo that was seasoned just right - not too hot or spicy. Next, out came 3 pounds of steaming crawfish piled up high on a round tray served with boiled corn and new potatoes. I stared at these bright red critters and didn't know exactly what to do with them or where to begin. I was lost until Jasmine Williams, Brandy's lovely 13 year old daughter offered to give me my first crawfish eating lesson.
Get ready to get messy.
Brandy gave me crawfish eating lessons.
Jasmine is a pro and has lots of experience eating these tasty little critters. As a matter of fact she proudly announced that she easily can eat a 3 pound order all by herself (including the corn on the cob and fresh boiled new potatoes). I watched Jasmine carefully as she demonstrated the correct way to eat crawfish. Step-by-step showing me how to attack, open, and eat a crawfish. No doubt about it, Jasmine was a seasoned crawfish-eater who developed this into an art form.
The first step is to twist the tail while holding the head straight in your other hand. Next - pry open the rib cage. Then, give the base of the tail a little pinch to release the meat. Now after all of this work and building up a sweat, you're finally rewarded with a tiny morsel of white meat - but, not so fast, you need to clean out the guts and other mysterious debris.
This de-shelling process is an ordeal that can get quite messy. We went thru nearly 2 rolls of paper towels and I had to get up twice to rinse off my hands during our dinner.
Cookin' up some crawfish in Shreveport.
I opted for some cocktail sauce and fresh lemon which isn't how the locals eat crawfish. This delicious cocktail sauce is homemade and a perfect blend of ingredients - not too much horseradish and had a bit of a sweet kick to it; so good that I devoured it on plain old Ritz crackers.
Crawfish eating isn't an easy exercise and realized it can be downright dangerous if you don't know what you?re doing. After squirting my eye with some spicy, peppery broth I ran over to the sink in the dining room to flush it out with cold water until I could see again.
It wasn't long before I had to contend with another medical emergency after consuming about a pound of crawfish, my lips were on fire - they were tingling from the peppery, spicy seasoning. "My lips are on fire!" I screamed out to Brandy and Jasmine who were amused if not embarrassed by me by now. Brandy and Jasmine were laughing so hard and it was obvious I was a novice at crawfish eating. "Rub some ice on your lips," was the only piece of advice Brandy could offer. After a few minutes of applying ice wrapped in a soggy paper napkin to my lips, I looked like I was drooling until my lips finally cooled down.
Well, I discovered that eating crawfish takes lots of effort and determination just for a bite of meat - but, once you get the hang of it, I'm sure you'll agree with me, that it's well worth the hassle.