What's in Season

Soft-Shell Crawfish

Though less well-known than their crab counterparts, soft-shell crawfish are a superb springtime delicacy

Illustration: Illustrations by John Burgoyne


When chef Scott Jones’s parents sat down to a plate of soft-shell craw-fish in April 1958, the deal was sealed. “They ate them on their first date in Monroe, Louisiana, where I was born,” Jones says, “and they both said they fell in love that night.” To mark the matrimonial milestone each April, Jones, who is now the proprietor of the Dallas-based restaurant and catering group Jack’s Modern Southern Kitchen, fries up a feast of beer-battered tempura soft-shell crawfish for Mom and Dad.

Much like soft-shell crabs, crawfish molt their hard shells each spring—generally between April and June in the South. At that point they can be eaten whole. They are a tender and succulent treat, Jones says, as long as you play by his cooking rules: “Fried, always and only fried. The shells tend to have a papery texture otherwise.” The crawfish can be gathered fresh from fishmongers in Florida, Texas, and, especially, southern Louisiana, but you can also order them from sites such as cajungrocer.com. To clean them, cut off the tip of the head behind the eyes with scissors, and remove the rock-like calcium deposits. After the dirty work is done, simply heat the oil, prep the batter, and let the crawdads sizzle. Pile them high on a platter and serve with Jones’s remoulade and spicy slaw. No doubt it’ll be love at first bite.

Three Steps to a Perfect Soft-Shell Crawfish Platter

1. Batter with Beer
“The beer gives the dish another layer of flavor, and I love the textural element of the tempura batter.”

In a large bowl, combine 1 cup flour, 1 tbsp. cornstarch, and 1 tsp. salt. Whisk in 1 12-oz. dark beer (Jones likes Lakewood Brewing Co. Temptress). In a Dutch oven, heat a few fingers of vegetable oil to 350°F. Rinse, drain, and dry 16 cleaned soft-shell crawfish. Dip crawfish in batter, then add to hot oil in batches. Fry for about 4 minutes, until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.

2. Drizzle with Remoulade
“I grew up eating remoulade with all the fried fish my mother made for our family—catfish, trout, snapper. This smokier, spicier version pairs perfectly with soft-shell crawfish.”

Whisk together 1 cup mayo, 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice, 2 tbsp. ketchup, 2 tbsp. whole-grain mustard, 2 minced chipotle peppers in adobo, 1 tbsp. Worcestershire, 1 tbsp. dill pickle relish, and 1 tbsp. sweet pickle relish in a medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and chill for several hours before serving.

3. Serve with Spicy Slaw
“Jalapeño coleslaw cuts the richness of the fried crawfish with every bite.”

Combine 1 head shredded green cabbage, 1 thinly sliced red onion, 2 seeded and julienned jalapeños, 2 julienned Granny Smith apples, and 1 bunch chopped cilantro. In a separate bowl, whisk together 1½ cups mayo, ½ cup whole-grain mustard, ¼ cup apple cider vinegar, ¼ cup honey, 2 tsp. chile powder, 1 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp. celery seed, ½ tsp. coriander, 2 tsp. salt, and 1 tsp. pepper. Pour dressing over cabbage mixture and toss well.