Perhaps the grandest dish in all of Cajun and Creole cuisine. This spicy, hearty bisque is sometimes served as thin as a soup, sometimes even thicker than an étouffée -- adjust the consistency to suit your taste. What makes it unique among all bisques in the culinary world is the addition of the stuffed crawfish heads (shells, actually) with crawfish dressing ... heavenly.

For the bisque:

Prepare a large crawfish-boiling pot with enough water for boiling the crawfish; add Zatarain's and lemons and bring to a boil. Drop the crawfish in live, and boil for 10 minutes. Ice down the boil and let the crawfish soak in the cold spiced water; the longer you let them soak, the more seasoning will be absorbed.

Break off the tails. Peel the tails, removing the vein but reserving the little flap of crawfish meat that's over the vein. Remove the crawfish fat from the heads (the little yellow glob that's worth its weight in gold) and reserve in a separate container.

Clean 5 dozen crawfish heads for stuffing. The so-called "head" is actually the large red thorax shell. Remove all inside parts, including the eyes and antennae. What should remain is a little tube with two open ends and one open side. Be careful; the shell must be scraped clean on the inside and it can be a bit rough on the fingers. (I'm told that a beer can opener makes this job easier.) Divide the crawfish fat and tails evenly, reserving half for the bisque and half for the stuffing.

Prepare the stuffed crawfish heads according to the recipe below. This is very labor-intensive, and takes a long time; most folks I know take two days to make crawfish bisque, cooking the crawfish, cleaning the heads and stuffing them the day before, and cooking the bisque on the second day. Recruit some help if you can. Place the stuffed heads in a pan and refrigerate.

To prepare the bisque, make a roux with the butter, oil and flour. Cook over low-medium heat, being careful not to scorch the butter, until the roux turns light brown. Stir CONSTANTLY. This means constantly, without stopping for anything. Add the onions, bell pepper, celery and garlic, and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the vegetables are soft and the roux is peanut butter-colored. Remove from heat and cool, continuing to stir.

Gradually and carefully add the stock or water (stock preferably) and combine thoroughly, making a nice gravy. Add half of the crawfish tails and crawfish fat, Creole seasoning, salt and peppers, and cook over low heat for 15 minutes. If you've got a little leftover crawfish stuffing, add it to the pot as well, as it adds more body and flavor.

Add the baked or sautéed crawfish heads, and cook over low heat for 30 minutes. Add the onion tops and parsley just before serving.

To serve, mound about 3/4 cup rice in large bowl, and divide the bisque evenly between them. Serve 6 stuffed crawfish heads with each serving. Don't worry about table manners; you almost have to use your fingers to get the stuffing out of the heads, and I've seen some folks (like me) inserting tongue into crawfish head to lick all the stuffing out. If you want to be more dainty, the tail end of your fork or spoon, or the end of a butter knife, helps get the stuffing out more easily. Make sure everyone gets the same number of heads, or fights will break out; they're that good. I'm told that tradition requires the empty heads to be placed around the rim of the bowl, so that some don't get more than others. It's easier to count them quickly that way.

For the stuffed crawfish heads:

Make a roux with the oil and flour. Add onions and bell peppers and cook until tender, stirring constantly. Mince or grind the remaining half of the crawfish tails and add to the roux-onion mixture. Add the remaining crawfish fat and simmer for 15 minutes.

Add stock, salt, peppers, breadcrumbs, eggs, parsley, green onions and butter. Combine thoroughly, adjusting the consistency with more stock or more bread crumbs as needed.

Fill each head with stuffing. Roll in flour and bake at 350°F for 15 minutes, or fry in hot oil until the stuffing is golden brown.  

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Chuck Taggart   (e-mail chuck)