Crawfish Monica is a great Creole dish featuring succulent crawfish tails cooked in spices and a rich cream sauce then 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, it will knock your socks off.
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[Publishers Note: This is an update of the article I wrote originally in May 2018. This recipe has been very popular and I am requested to make it often. Always seeking to provide better information for my readers, I've updated and added some information and reformatted photographs for better web viewing. Let me know what you think.]
What is Crawfish Monica?
Over its 50 year run (so far), The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival has grown to be a world-renown celebration of Louisiana and New Orleans Culture, rivaling even Mardi Gras in popularity. The music exemplifies the culturally diverse and seemingly unlimited wealth of musicians and rich sounds that sets South Louisiana apart from all others. But let's not overlook the food. Local food purveyors offer everything from classic Creole to rustic Cajun and everything in between. You'll find unbelievable food offered in the ordinary, the exotic and even the quirky...sort of sounds like our unique culture and you'll have trouble deciding what to try first.
You'll notice people lining up for Crawfish Monica, a dish created by a local pasta maker wanting to help sell his pasta. Introduced at Jazz Fest in 1981, it 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
Louisiana Crawfish Tails. You can use peeled tails leftover from a boil or go for frozen tail meat. Louisiana Crawfish Tails are available in the freezer section of grocery stores and seafood markets in Louisiana and many other cities across the country. Check out the Hints and Tips section below for more information about crawfish tails!
Check out the HInts and TIps Section if you are looking for substitutes for some of these ingredienst.
Don’t forget the beer, you'll need beer.
You’ll need a stockpot in which to cook the pasta and a Dutch oven or similar large heavy bottom pan to make the sauce and mix in the pasta. Here are some of the tools I use while prepping: cutting boards, Cambro prep bowls, glass prep bowls, measuring cups, chef’s knives, and this handy juicer.
Here's What You Do
First...you have a beer. Relax, get in the right frame of mind and enjoy. Every recipe should start with mise en place and that starts with a beer. It’s important to read the recipe from top to bottom so you know what you need and you know what to do with each ingredient. The process for Crawfish Monica is simple, it's a cream sauce built on top of some onions and garlic, seasoned with spices and mixed with crawfish tails and pasta. If you prep all the ingredients and lay them out in their own prep bowls, you eliminate the angst and can assemble the recipe perfectly in real-time.
Mise en place
Place the crawfish tails in a bowl and mix with Creole seasoning (see the Hints and Tips for more about these tails).
Set those aside while you dice the onions, parsley and garlic. Squeeze the lemon juice.
Measure the butter, heavy cream, wine, parmesan, creole seasoning and cayenne pepper (if using).
Cook the pasta according to the package directions and set it aside. You’ll want this to be a little al dente with just a bit of a bite when you mix it all up.
Here’s a tip: Reserve about ¼ cup of the pasta cooking liquid. When you set the cooked pasta aside until needed, it has a tendency to get a little stiff and boring. We can wake it up by mixing the reserved pasta water and a drizzle of olive oil into the cooked and drained pasta. The pasta water also adds back a little starch that will help thicken the sauce. Now it's happy and alive and ready to go!
Build the first layer of flavor
What happens in this step? The rich flavor of this dish is constructed in layers. The first layer of flavor is the base for the rich, creamy sauce. We start by sweating the flavor of the yellow onions in butter and then adding a layer of aromatics before blending it all with the cream and the subtle edge of the lemon juice.
Saute the yellow onions in butter
Melt the butter over medium-high heat in a heavy-bottom Dutch oven. When the butter is frothy, throw in the yellow onions. Stir around frequently until they are soft, about 8 minutes.
Add the aromatics
Toss in the garlic and shake the pan around until they are all mixed up and you catch that great garlic aroma. That will only be a minute or two.
When the garlic becomes aromatic, add the Creole seasoning and cayenne pepper (if using), stir well and let it saute for about 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.
Add the cream and lemon juice
Next, the cream and lemon juice go in. Stir and shake the pan to mix everything well. When the sauce begins to boil, turn the heat down to medium-low and let it simmer for a few minutes, just until it starts to thicken. Don’t let it thicken too much, you want it to coat all the pasta later.
Finishing with Crawfish and Pasta
What happens in this step? Now that we have a creamy, flavorful sauce, this is when we turn it into a crawfish dish with a Creole flair.
Add the crawfish tails, green onions and parsley
The crawfish tails should be added a handful at a time, as the sauce simmers. Treat them tenderly and separate them as you go.
Once all the tails are mixed in, add the green onions and parsley and stir it all together.
Here’s a tip: These tails are already parboiled or maybe completely cooked so you only need to heat them through, which should take only a couple of minutes.
Blend in the pasta and parmesan
Make sure to mix the reserved pasta water and olive oil into the cooked pasta. Give it all a good stir. Now, add the pasta to the sauce a little at a time, blending completely before you add more so it does not lump.
Here's a tip: You may not need the entire pound of pasta, so start with about half, blend that in then add half of what's left. You’ll need to use your judgment for how much to add. You want all the pasta well coated with sauce. If you have too much pasta there may not be enough sauce to coat it all.
Once the pasta is all coated with the sauce, add ½ cup of parmesan cheese and stir it together to incorporate all the ingredients. Save the rest of the parmesan to add at the table.
That’s it, all there is to it. When you dish it up, have the remaining parmesan cheese out so people can sprinkle more on top.
What can you serve with Crawfish Monica? Well, besides some crispy, hot french bread, here are just a few options.
Hints and Tips
Definitely Louisiana crawfish tail meat. This is a perfect dish to use leftover tail meat from a crawfish boil. There are also plenty of frozen tails 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. Actually, it’s not really fat at all but part of the crawfish digestive system. Don't wash that stuff off-it packs a lot of deliciousness.
Check the source of any frozen crawfish you find in the seafood market or grocer’s freezer section. If possible, avoid using 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 fat off thoroughly. 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 (dot-com) 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, that’s the 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 has a tendency 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 in the microwave or in 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 crabmeat 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 at the end.
It’s a pretty simple process but these are things I've done that turned out 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 or 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 another classic Jazz Fest Nosh!
Does this have you craving crawfish? Check out these popular crawfish recipes and a link to ALL my crawfish recipes:
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Have we woken up your inner-Cajun? Well, you'll want to check out these other Cajun and Creole Recipes:
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Here's What You Need
- 1 pound rotini pasta
- 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.