The History of Crawfish in Houston
Cajun crawfish didn’t take off in the Bayou City until 1976, but Houstonians’ appetite for crawfish has exploded since then.
By Robb Walsh Updated 3/10/2020 at 5:21pm Published in the March 2017 issue of Houstonia
Larry’s French Market’s founder A.J. Judice Jr. was the first to bring crawfish racing to Texas—and the first to serve crawfish here, too.\
IMAGE: NICK DE LA TORRE
AT YOUR CLASSIC CRAWFISH SHACK, when patrons sit down at the picnic tables spread with newspapers, they don plastic bibs. The idea, of course, is to avoid splashing and staining when huge mounds of steaming goodness come tumbling onto each table. But it’s a losing battle. As the hungry hordes twist each shell apart, squeeze out the succulent white meat, grab it with their teeth, and suck the head for an extra shot of fiery spices, orange cayenne and crawfish goo is going to drip down their fingers, arms and faces and onto their clothing.
If they don’t get anything in their eyes, they’re doing great.
Messiness is just one of the hazards aficionados face come crawfish season. Yes, it’s best to let the piping-hot pile of crawfish, corn on the cob and red potatoes cool off to avoid burnt fingers. But who can wait that long?
The rituals of the crawfish boil trace their roots to the Atchafalaya swamp in western Louisiana and the people who settled there: the Acadians, or Cajuns, who migrated from French Canada and the French-speaking African-Caribbeans, or Creoles, from Haiti and other islands.
Each spring, floodwaters force the crawfish to leave their burrows, and Cajuns and Creoles alike gather them in huge quantities to consume at crawfish boils, big parties where people come together around a huge pot. The traditional season for crawfish coincides with Lent—the 40-day period before Easter, generally from March to April, when Catholics refrain from eating meat—although nowadays, thanks to crawfish farming, it really lasts from January to August.