Crawfish Monica is a great Creole dish featuring succulent crawfish tails cooked in a rich cream sauce with Creole spices, tossed with pasta. A relative newcomer to New Orleans cuisine, it has quickly become a favorite way to enjoy crawfish. Here’s Sweet Daddy D’s simple, no-angst recipe for this New Orleans tradition. Try it with some warm and crispy French bread and a nice green salad and you'll know why they line up for Crawfish Monica at the New Orleans Jazz Festival!
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What is Crawfish Monica?
Since 1970, The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (Jazz Fest) has grown to be a world-renowned celebration of South Louisiana culture, rivaling even Mardi Gras in popularity. While music is the major driver of Jazz Fest, let's not overlook the food. South Louisiana's unique cuisines, likely our greatest resource, exhibit influences of French, Spanish, African, Caribbean, Italian, German, Native American, and many other cultures. Local food purveyors' offerings range from classic Creole to rustic Cajun and everything in between. With all types of music resonating from numerous stages, you'll find traditional, exotic, and even quirky fare from every corner of our unique culture!
Crawfish Monica, introduced at Jazz Fest in 1981 by a local pasta maker wanting to help sell his pasta, quickly gained notoriety and popularity. Succulent crawfish tails in a rich, creamy sauce mixed with rotini pasta...one taste and you'll have no doubt how it has become recognized as the most popular Jazz Fest nosh.
Here's What You Need
A detailed list of ingredients as well as quantities can be found in the Recipe Card at the end of this article.
Don’t forget the beer, you'll need beer.
Crawfish: I only recommend Louisiana Crawfish Tails. You can use frozen tails, or leftover crawfish tails from a crawfish boil. Check out the Hints and Tips (FAQ) section below for more on choosing crawfish.
Pasta: The traditional Jazz Fest version is made with Rotini pasta, which is a short corkscrew-shaped pasta. Rotini's shape helps grab the sauce, so any substitute should do the same. Some great options are fusilli (also a twisty-shaped pasta), fettuccine and linguine work well because of their flat shape, and farfalle’s bowtie shape is well suited for this dish.
Dry White Wine: I like Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, or Dry Vermouth. If you want to skip the wine, use chicken stock and an extra teaspoon of lemon juice to replace the acid from the wine. (The lemon juice and the wine provide some acid to help balance the fat from the butter and heavy cream).
Parmesan Cheese: I recommend freshly grated cheese, but you can certainly use pre-grated cheese. You can substitute Romano Cheese, which is usually a bit saltier and sharper than Parmesan.
Heavy Cream: We are looking for a creamy sauce that will cling to the pasta. I don't recommend substituting whole milk or Half and Half unless necessary. If you do, you may need to simmer the sauce for a few extra minutes. Don't use skim or no-fat milk.
Salt: I have not added salt as an ingredient here because the pasta is cooked in salted water and the parmesan cheese and butter (I use salted butter) also contain salt. I developed this recipe using Le Bon Papa Creole Seasoning, which is a no-salt all-purpose seasoning. If you use a seasoning that contains salt, taste the sauce before adding any salt. Of course, you should add as much salt to the dish as you like.
Cayenne Pepper: I list this as an optional ingredient, but I highly recommend using it to provide a nice background bite to the finished dish.
You won't need any special equipment to make Crawfish Monica. The heavy lifting is done in a Dutch oven, which needs to be large enough to hold all the pasta when you blend it in. You'll also need a stockpot in which to cook the pasta. Other than that, you'll need the usual items for prepping the ingredients. I did find that a juicer came in handy to squeeze the lemon and a microplane did the trick for grating the cheese.
Hints and Tips (FAQ)
Definitely Louisiana crawfish tail meat. This is a perfect dish to use leftover tail meat from a crawfish boil. Plenty of frozen tails are available in the freezer section of grocery stores and seafood markets in Louisiana and across the country. This is usually what I go with. The key to the sweetness of Louisiana crawfish tails is in the "fat"-that’s the yellow-orange stuff squeezed from the head and sticking to the tail meat. It’s not fat at all but part of the crawfish digestive system. Don't wash that stuff off, it packs a lot of deliciousness. However, if you find you must use imported crawfish tails, rinse them well.
Check the source of any frozen crawfish you find in the seafood market or grocer’s freezer section. I highly recommend against using imported crawfish from China. My experience is that the “fat” in the imported tails is bitter and needs to be rinsed off the tails before you use them. The likely reason for this is the extended time it takes for the imported crawfish to reach the market. Crawfish fat will go rancid after a couple of months, so if you do use imported crawfish, make sure to rinse the tails thoroughly. Rinsing is not optimal, but it’s better than bitter-tasting crawfish.
If you don’t have a local source for Louisiana crawfish tail meat, you can order them online at Cajun Grocers and Tony’s Seafood. I don’t have any affiliation with these businesses, but I have used them both and know they are reliable and have quality products. You can also search Amazon (I do have an affiliate relationship with Amazon and as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. The price you pay as a consumer does not change, but I may make a small commission based on your purchase), but again make sure they are Louisiana crawfish.
The traditional Jazz Fest version is made with Rotini pasta, which is a short corkscrew-shaped pasta. Rotini is perfect because its shape helps grab the sauce, so any substitute should do the same. Some great options are fusilli (also a twisty-shaped pasta), fettuccine and linguine work well because of their flat shape, and farfalle’s bowtie shape is well suited for this dish.
You probably won’t have any but I have found that freezing leftover Monica does not go very well. The cream sauce tends to separate and the pasta can get mushy. I would stick with refrigerating leftovers in airtight containers for up to 3 or 4 days. You can reheat it in the microwave or a saucepan, making sure to warm it slowly and stir frequently to keep everything together.
Yes. I’d recommend lump crabmeat if you go that way. The lump will stand up much better than smaller pieces of crab meat in the pasta. Make sure you mix it in gently so the lumps stay together. Unlike crawfish and crab meat, shrimp will not be pre-cooked, so give the shrimp enough time to cook in the sauce (this will take 5 to 8 minutes) before you add the pasta. To prevent the sauce from reducing too much, saute the shrimp in the butter for about 2 or 3 minutes (turning once) before doing anything else. Set the shrimp aside until you are ready to add them (along with any liquid from the sauteeing) at the end as you do the crawfish.
It’s a pretty simple process but these are things I've done that resulted in less-than-perfect results:
First, not using Louisiana crawfish. I know I keep going back to that but believe me, there is a difference. Stick to Louisiana Crawfish but if you have to use imported, make sure to rinse them well. Don’t rinse the fat off of Louisiana crawfish.
The next misstep would be overcooking the pasta. Just cook the pasta according to the package directions for al dente (meaning to cook until it gives a slight resistance when bitten-not overcooked or undercooked; meaning "tooth" in Italian.) A little “bite” in the pasta will make sure it won’t be overcooked after you blend it into the sauce.
Not enough sauce! All the pasta should be coated with lots of sauce. Don’t simmer the sauce too long after you add the cream and don't add too much pasta to the sauce. In these situations, there won’t be enough sauce to cover the pasta sufficiently and it will seem a little dry. The dish should be a little “juicy” when you’re ready to serve it.
Here's What You Do
First...you have a beer. You'll want to be in a Jazz Fest State of Mind to cook Crawfish Monica. Sip a beer while you read the recipe from top to bottom to learn what you need and what you'll do with each ingredient. Then, perform your mise en place so that all the ingredients are prepped before you start cooking.
Mise en place
All ingredients should be prepped before you start cooking. This will ensure that you have everything you need and that you don't forget to add anything while you are cooking. When you do your mise en place, most of the work is done and you can enjoy cooking the dish.
- Place the crawfish tails in a bowl and mix with Creole seasoning.
- Cook the pasta to al dente according to the package directions. Set aside. Make sure you reserve some pasta cooking water.
- Chop the yellow onions, green onions, parsley, and garlic; squeeze the lemon.
- Measure the remaining ingredients,
Build the first layer of flavor
What happens in this step? The rich flavor of this dish starts in this step, the foundation for the rich, creamy sauce. We start by lightly sauteeing the aromatics in butter, then reducing dry white wine to concentrate those flavors.
- Melt the butter in a heavy-bottom Dutch oven over medium heat. When the butter is bubbly, add the yellow onions and saute for about 8 minutes until the onions are starting to clear and soften.
- At that point, toss in the garlic and stir into the onions. Saute for a couple of minutes until you can smell the garlic aroma.
- When the garlic becomes aromatic, add the Creole seasoning and cayenne pepper (if using). Stir well and let it saute for another two minutes. This starts to build that great rose color and helps toast and bloom the spices.
- Next, add the wine and bring it to a low simmer. Continue to simmer the wine until it’s almost totally reduced and the flavors concentrate.
Lagniappe Tip: The aromatics should not be browned. Reducing the wine concentrates the flavors of the aromatics.
Build the Sauce
What happens in this step? Here we use the concentrated flavor from the aromatics as the foundation for the cream sauce to which we add the crawfish tails.
- Once the wine has reduced and the base flavors are concentrated, increase the heat slightly and add the cream and lemon juice. Stir and shake the pan to make sure everything is mixed well.
- As soon as the sauce begins to boil, reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer for a only couple of minutes while the sauce thickens slightly.
Lagniappe Tip: We don't want the sauce to boil, so as soon as it starts, reduce the heat to a simmer. We want the sauce to thicken slightly, but don't let it reduce too much.
- Now that the sauce has slightly thickened, maintain a slight simmer while adding the crawfish tails a handful at a time. Gently mix the crawfish into the sauce.
- Once the crawfish have been mixed well into the sauce, add the green onions and parsley. Simmer for about 2 more minutes.
Lagniappe Tip: The crawfish tails are already parboiled or completely cooked so you only need to heat them through, which should take only a couple of minutes.
- It's time to add the pasta. (See the Lagniappe Tip below). Add the pasta to the sauce a little at a time, blending completely before you add more. Make sure the pasta is evenly distributed and well coated in sauce.
- Once the pasta is coated, add ½ cup of parmesan cheese and stir to incorporate all the ingredients. The remaining parmesan should be added at the table.
Lagniappe Tips on the Pasta
You can cook the pasta while you are making the sauce, having both done at the same time, or you can cook the pasta while you are doing your mise en place.
The starch in the pasta cooking water helps thicken the sauce and make it more creamy. If you add the pasta directly from the stock pot as it finishes cooking, you shouldn't need as much pasta cooking water (but you do need some) as you do if the cooked pasta has been sitting for a while. If the pasta has been sitting, add about ¼ cup of the reserved pasta cooking water plus olive oil to the cooked pasta before you add it to the sauce. Mix well to eliminate any clumpiness.
You may not need the entire pound of pasta. Start with about half, blending completely before adding more. You’ll need to use your judgment on how much pasta to add. You want all the pasta well coated with sauce. If you add too much pasta there may not be enough sauce to coat it all.
Crawfish Monica is best when served immediately. Place it in a bowl or on a plate and add more parmesan cheese. Garnish with chopped green onions or parsley on top. Serve Crawfish Monica with a crisp green salad with Creole Vinaigrette, or a delicious Sensation Salad. Don't forget crispy, hot French bread and a vegetable on the side.
More Great Crawfish Recipes
Does this have you craving crawfish? Check out these popular crawfish recipes and a link to ALL my crawfish recipes:
Follow this link to all my Crawfish Recipes>>>
Have we woken up your inner Cajun? Well, you'll want to check out these other Cajun and Creole Recipes:
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Yeah You Right!
Here's What You Need
- 1 pound rotini pasta See Notes
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 6 tablespoons Butter
- 1 medium yellow onion chopped
- 4 cloves garlic chopped
- 1 tablespoon Creole seasoning plus some for the crawfish
- ½ teaspoon cayenne optional
- ½ cup Dry White Wine
- 2 cups Heavy Cream
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 2 pounds Louisiana crawfish tails
- 1 bunch green onions chopped
- ½ cup parsley chopped
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese grated and divided
Here's What You Do
- Cook the pasta to al denté according to the package direction.
- Reserve about ¼ cup of the pasta cooking water. When the pasta is al dente, drain but don't rinse. Return the pasta to the pot, cover and set aside.
- Place the crawfish tails in a bowl and sprinkle with Creole seasoning. Mix well and set aside.
- In a large sauté pan, melt the butter over medium-high heat until frothy.
- Add the yellow onions and saute until soft, about 8 minutes.
- Add the garlic and continue to saute until aromatic, about 2 minutes.
- Add the creole seasoning and cayenne (if using) and stir well. Saute another two or three minutes.
- Add the wine, bring to a heavy simmer and allow the wine to evaporate almost completely.
- Add the cream and lemon juice, stirring and shaking the pan until well blended.
- Simmer on low for a couple of minutes until it begins to slightly thicken.
- Add the crawfish tails a few at a time and stir well to blend completely.
- Allow the crawfish tails to only warm through (about 3 minutes), then add the green onions and parsley.
- Mix well and simmer about two minutes.
- Add the reserved pasta water and a drizzle of olive oil to the cooked pasta and stir thoroughly.
- Add the cooked pasta to the sauce a little at a time. Stir completely to combine the pasta, sauce and crawfish tails before adding more pasta. See Recipe Notes about how much pasta to add.
- When the pasta has been thoroughly combined, stir in about ½ cup of the Parmesan cheese and mix well. Reserve the remaining parmesan cheese to add at the table.
- Remove from the heat. When serving, sprinkle more parmesan cheese on top.
Publishers Note: One of our most popular recipes, this article has been updated with improved process photos with instructions, improved ingredient information, updated FAQs, and more Hints and Tips.