Dickie Breaux has probably told the story a thousand times. But with each retelling there remains something mysterious about the origin of crawfish touffe. As a Breaux Bridge culinary legend, and owner of storied Cajun restaurant Caf Des Amis, hes often called upon as a keeper of crawfish lore. Its tough to be an expert on something carried on almost purely by oral tradition, especially when that oral tradition has been copied erroneously thousands upon thousands of times like a decades-long game of recipe telephone. Crawfish touffe doesnt come from a recipe in the way other folk staples like biscuits or shepherds pie do. Its a description of a method of preparation, like roasted pork or barbecued chicken. touffe, translated from French, means smothered, and listening to Dickie walk through his signature tale for the thousandth time you get the sense thats all there is to it. Crawfish touffe is just crawfish that has been smothered rather than grilled, fried, braised, poached, or baked. It could just as soon be shrimp or catfish. But smothered, in this sense, means smothered in the fashion of Cajun cooks, in particular Aline Champagne, nieceof Mulate Guidry of Mulates Cajun Restaurant fame, and possibly the only consistent apparition in the legend. That original smothering, according to Breaux, was a simple and rich one made with crawfish tails, butter, onions, bell pepper, and crawfish fat. The fat, which is actually liver and not technically fat, is the ambrosia of mythological Cajun cooking. Its succulence is the allure of crawfish meat itself, and is the primary ingredient missing in most contemporary recipes. Grocery stores sold it in abundance in the early 20th century until its commercial sale was outlawed by mid-century, but those patient enough to peel their own tails can still reap the benefits. As Mr. Breauxs legend goes, Aline ran the Rendezvous Restaurant on the Henderson highway outside of Breaux Bridge, and served a wide selection of Cajun favorites, most notably those featuring crawfish. In the 1940s, crawfish werent widely eaten publically, though in Breaux Bridge, later to be called the Crawfish Capital of the World, it was a daily staple while in season. Martin Begnaud, a banker from Lafayette, followed his nose through the swinging saloon doors into Alines kitchen and asked her what she was doing. Mais, justement touffe mes ecrivisses, she replied. Or in English, I am simply smothering my crawfish tails. Mr. Begnaud tried the dish, loved it, and returned the following week with ten of his employees, each ordering crawfish touffe. The rest, as has been said a thousand times, is history. As time has rolled on the story has gotten more varied in the telling, and the dish more complex in the making. Some say Aline inherited her technique from crawfish courtbouillon (a tomato based seafood stew) made at the nearby Hebert Hotel in the 1920s, and adapted it to her needs and means. Today, restaurant and home touffes only hover around the original four ingredient recipe, perhaps striving to make up for the difficult to obtain crawfish fat. Some include heavy creams, others Creole-ify it with tomatoes, and overall the finish is thicker and more stew-like than the original. Still, crawfish touffe owns a place as one of the most iconic dishes in Louisiana food lore. And like its cousins, its legend is only growing.
When not waxing pompously about food and what should be in it, Lafayette native Christiaan Mader is writing and recording songs for his critically acclaimed band Brass Bed, a fixture of the south Louisiana music scene. Hes performed internationally with Sub Pop recording artist Shearwater, and written Ray Davies fan fiction for Vice Magazine. His music has been featured in publications like Spin, Entertainment Weekly, and The New Yorker, as well as on nationally syndicated radio programs and podcasts produced by NPR and KEXP.To view more of Christiaan's work, or to contact him about a project please visit christiaanmader.pressfolios.com/.
The Origin of Crawfish touffe
Posted: May 20, 2015 by Christiaan Mader