Lately, I’ve gotten lots of questions from folks outside of Louisiana who want to know more about the restaurant scene in South Louisiana. Well, I could write volumes on the subject and still not cover it all. The Faces and Places pages of Acadiana Table are a good start, but I have a continually growing backlog of eclectic, out-of-the-way places that I’ve discovered but still have yet to add to the list. But with one bite of this Fried Softshell Crab topped with Crawfish Étouffée and this little eatery is now at the top of my list.
I like to say these places are “off-the-eatin’-path”, and for good reason. Most of them never show up in the tourist guides or hardly ever make the pages of the food magazines. These are the places located far from the interstate highways and most don’t even have the budget to buy a billboard. But, these little lunchrooms are the backbone of Cajun recipes and Creole culinary expression and ground zero for understanding the culture.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love 5-star restaurants just as much as you do, and here in South Louisiana we have spectacular dining establishments that are on par with most any major metro. Sparkling crystal goblets and pristine china on precisely pressed white linen tablecloths speak volumes about the culinary experience to come and most do not disappoint. But for me, it’s the down-home Cajun recipes I eat in the hole-in-the-wall, mom-and-pop-owned spots that speak loudest about the culture of my Acadiana.
For instance, take the Yellow Bowl Restaurant near Jeanerette, Louisiana. Ask me for directions and I’d be stumped. With a pen and a stack of napkins, I would have you so confused you’d give up hope of ever finding it. But, with a trusty state map and the instincts of a culinary adventurer (along with a GPS), you will find a rare treasure.
What started out as a Greyhound bus stop along a desolate highway in the cane fields of St. Mary Parish in South Louisiana has grown into a shrine of classic Cajun food. Now under the expert hands of TK and Colleen Hulin and their chef Kenneth “Tippy” Davis, this family-style restaurant is worth searching for. Not fancy, just down-home good Cajun cooking.
My wife Roxanne and I had lunch there recently, and I discovered Chef Tippy’s incredible Cajun recipe for Crawfish Margarite–an expertly fried softshell crab topped with crawfish étouffée. Crispy crab gives way to creamy smothered crawfish in a spicy hurricane of flavor. This Cajun recipe for Fried Softshell Crab topped with Crawfish Étouffée is a rare combination that is worth driving (or flying) for. It is not on the menu year round but when softshell crabs are in season (usually in the spring and summer), beat a path to the Yellow Bowl.
While the chef didn’t share the details of his Cajun recipe, I recently took a shot at recreating his Fried Softshell Crab topped with Crawfish Étouffée in my kitchen with delicious results. I urge you to make this dish when you see softshells for sale and take a culinary side trip off-the-eatin’-path.
- 1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
- 1 green bell pepper, finely diced
- ½ cup finely diced celery
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 pounds Louisiana crawfish tail meat
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups crawfish stock or seafood stock
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Dash of hot sauce
- 4 large softshell Louisiana blue crabs, cleaned
- 1 gallon canola oil
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons Acadiana Table Cajun Seasoning Blend, see recipe here
- 1 cup half and half
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 tablespoon hot sauce
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 slices toasted white bread
- 2 cups cooked Louisiana long-grain white rice, such as Supreme
- 4 lemon wedges
- In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and add the onions, bell pepper, and celery. Sauté for 5 minutes just until tender, add the garlic and season the mixture with cayenne. Add the crawfish tail meat stirring to combine. Reduce the heat to simmer and cook for another 5 minutes.
- Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir to incorporate and begin cooking the flour. Add some of the stock and continuing stirring until it begins to thicken. Add more stock just until the sauce thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.
- Season to taste with salt, pepper, and hot sauce. Turn off the heat and keep warm until serving.
- Rinse the crabs and pat dry with paper towels to remove any moisture. Place them on a platter lined with paper towels.
- In a deep pot over medium-high heat, add the oil. Bring to a temperature of 375ªF.
- In a shallow container, add the flour and seasoning and blend together.
- In a shallow container, add the half and half along with the buttermilk and hot sauce. Stir to blend.
- Remove the crabs and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Place the crabs in the liquid and then dredge in the seasoned flour. Roll them to coat on both sides.
- Shake off any excess flour from each crab and place in the hot grease being careful not to crowd the pot. Fry the crabs until golden brown on both sides, about 8 minutes. Remove to a paper towel-lined platter and keep warm. Repeat until all the crabs are cooked.
- For serving, cut the toast in half and place on a platter. Cut each softshell crab in half and place on each toast half. Add a mound of cooked rice in the space between the crab and ladle over a generous amount of crawfish étouffée. Garnish with a lemon wedge.
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