In Texas there are some sure signs that spring is in the air. For one thing, we’re about rodeo-ed out, the sun has finally made an appearance and the weather has gone from wet and nasty to sunny and almost hot. We’ve got our tomatoes ready for planting and the farmers market is loaded with strawberries and sweet potatoes.
And then there’s this: Mudbugs are everywhere.
Crayfish, crawfish, crawdads, mudbugs, call ‘em what you like. These tasty crustaceans are now in season, and they make some very good eating. Purists love the original Ragin Cajun, on Richmond Avenue, where the beer is cold and the buckets of boiled bugs come with an ear of corn and a baked potato. It ain’t fancy, but it sure is delicious. And, yes, sucking the heads is almost mandatory here.
I love this feast. It reminds me of a more elegant meal I had at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans where a hubcap-size silver platter was piled high with boiled crawdads, corn and potatoes. That was some meal, but there are plenty of places right here in Houston to wallow in mudbugs, like Goode Co. Seafood, where Jim Goode makes his own seasoning for the boil and serves them with the standard sides plus sausage.
And I can hardly wait until next month, when Bistro Calais will host a monthly Sunday night crawfish boil. All you can eat plus sides for $25, as well as live blues and $1 longnecks until the season ends. Can’t think of a better way to end the weekend.
Just about any Cajun/Creole/seafood joint in town is stocking up on crawdads this time of year, and some not-so-usual places are also offering up some interesting takes on the little buggers.
Take Backstreet Café, for instance. Owner Tracy Lee Vaught enlisted her hubby and head chef Hugo Ortega to create some seasonal crawfish dishes that just might surprise you.
“Oh, I love Goode Co. and Ragin Cajun,” Vaught says. “I grew up in the oil business where seasonal crawfish boils are big events in the spring.”
But she’s not just boiling her bugs. The Backstreet folk turned up at the Urban Harvest farmers market last Saturday with samples of crawfish hand pies. After doling out 500 little pies they had to fold their tent.
“Boils are fun,” says Vaught. “But I also think crawfish work well in other dishes: seafood cocktails, soups, pastas and pizza.”
And, yes, all those are now on the Backstreet menu, along with crawfish beignets, crawfish cheesecake, crawfish stuffed into portabella mushrooms and grilled crawfish. There’s even a green gumbo with crawfish and duck sausage, something the Mexican-born Ortega whipped up without even knowing Louisiana folk do a similar dish.
Vaught thinks crawfish taste a little like lobster. They’re certainly earthier than shrimp, although a lot depends on the seasoning. In fact, it may not even be the taste so much as the fun of eating them and, of course, the fact that — like those limited edition knickknacks on QVC — you can only get them for a short time.
Order now! Time is running out! Spring is almost here and crawdaddies wait for no one.