Platts: Eating our way through New Orleans
“Just suck the head. That’s how you get all the flavor,” the guy sitting next to me at the bar instructed. “And then after you do that you push here on the tail and the meat comes out easier…like this.”
The Southern stranger then proceeded to crack a mid-sized crawfish in half, slurp the juices out of the critter’s head and seamlessly bite all the meat out from the tail. To me, a crawfish newbie, his actions were nothing short of a miracle.
“It’s real simple, you just have to pinch right here and it makes the meat come out in one try,” my friend, also a former Aspen Times reporter, encouraged.
My brother and I peered down at the pound of bright orange red crawfish on the bar and descended on them, tearing the deceased crustaceans apart with an urgency that likened to a pack of hyenas devouring their prey. By the fourth or fifth try, we were cracking, slurping and tearing with the best of them.
When I recall my New Orleans trip with my little brother this past weekend, one of the highlights of the three-day adventure was this learning moment when a friend and a stranger, both born and raised in Louisiana, taught us how to properly eat crawfish. One can’t get more Louisiana than crawfish. The state harvests 95 percent of them in the country and 90 percent in the whole entire world. Plus, 70 percent are consumed locally meaning, if you want to try these bad boys, your best bet is to head for the Bayou State.
My younger brother Jack and I had been planning a trip to New Orleans ever since he turned 21 a year and a half ago. The city is a popular destination for those in a celebratory state about drinking, partially due to the lack of open container laws and the festivals the city hosts such as the Voodoo Music Festival, Jazz & Heritage Festival and the ever popular Mardis Gras.
As beloved, and fun, as the drinking culture is, it would be nothing if it weren’t for the food. The city’s restaurants are a telling sign of the its resilience after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. Today, there are more than 600 new restaurants than there were before the storm hit, meaning there are more Po Boys than anyone knows what to do with, along with a plethora of oysters, crab, shrimp and, of course, crawfish.
Many of the historical restaurants in New Orleans help tell the story of the city’s past. Brennan’s, located in a pink building in the French Quarter, is known for inventing the Banana’s Foster, inspired by loyal customer Richard Foster. Another establishment that is a must-try is the Cafe Du Monde. It was established in the 1860s and is known for its French Beignets. The large coffee shop is open 24 hours a day and almost always has a line out the door.
The new kids on the block are also telling of Southern culture. Purloo, a restaurant located near the Garden District, has revamped traditional dishes with items on the menu like low-country style she-crab soup and fried catfish. Even less notable places help tell the story of New Orleans like food stands in the French Market that serve fried alligator on a stick and home-cooked fried chicken.
Through our three-day adventure we saw many things. We were almost brought to tears at the Katrina exhibit at the Presbytére, our jaws dropped as we watched a couple swing dance to the sounds of a local blues band, and we got lost in a popular used bookstore for hours. But, by far, the most insightful moments of the weekend were with a full plate of Southern cuisine at our fingertips.
Now if only we could get some of those flavorful crawfish to Aspen …
Barbara Platts may have developed an unhealthy relationship with crawfish this past weekend. If anyone knows where she can get a fix, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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