Gratin de Queues d’ Ecrevisses

[Crawfish tails in Sauce Nantua]

This is an exhausting dish originally created by Chef M. Hure. I mean that in the best way possible. It requires a lot of prep work, a lot of skill, and takes forever. But the result is delicious and the new skills of making crawdaddy butter and sauce Nantua will serve you well. However, if you like to spend all day prepping and setting up a meez and just getting nerdy in the kitchen, then welcome to your new favorite.

There are six steps to this dish:

  1. The fish stock
  2. Cooking the crawdad tails
  3. crawdad butter
  4. sauce nantua
  5. sauce hollandaise
  6. presentation

The tails are no big deal. And you’ve made Hollandaise so, you know, show no fear.

You can buy fish stock. You can. But if you do you’re a goddam cheater. You’re going to go to your fish monger anyway to get the écrevisses so pick up some heads and bones while you’re there. Trust me, the look of mild respect on your fish guy’s face is worth it. HOWEVER, if your fish guy makes stock, then fuck it, pick up that stock. But don’t use the stuff from the store. It blows and making your own is fucking worth it.

You don’t have to live in Louisiana to get live craw-daddies. You can talk to these people who will ship you a crate full of wriggling, claw-fighting, angry delicious LIVE crawfish anywhere in the continental U.S. and maybe further, I don’t know, I don’t work for them.

The work in this dish comes from making the crayfish butter and the sauce Nantua. Sauce Nantua is béchamel sauce with crayfish butter added. How I have lived so many years without the knowledge such a divine thing exists, I’ll never know. It is a testament to the deprivation of my childhood and the depravity of my youth that I’ve managed to avoid Sauce Nantua. I would put it on everything. I would put it on grits, I swear to God.

Gratin de Queues d'Écrevevisses
Recipe type: Seafood
Cuisine: French
Serves: 4
Crayfish tails in sauce Nantua.
  • 2 pounds fish bones and heads
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 small carrots, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • ¼ teaspoon peppercorns
  • a few stalks parsley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1½ cups dry white wine
  • 4 tablespoons white tarragon vinegar
  • 2 pounds (about 36-40) defrosted crayfish tails
  • ½ cup butter
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 6 tablespoon flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon white pepper
  • 2 cups hot milk
  • ½ cup cream
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • crayfish butter
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons cream
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 3 tablespoons cognac
  1. Put all the ingredients into a saucepan. Bring to a boil then simmer for 15 minutes.
  1. Pop the tails into the stock.
  2. Simmer for 5 minutes.Remove the crayfish and cool slightly, then slit the tails with scissors or a knife, remove the meat, and set aside.
  3. Strain the stock, let it cool, and freeze for later.
  4. Save the shells.
  1. Crush the shells in mortar with the butter then put through a food mill to strain out the shells.
  1. Melt the butter.
  2. Stir in the flour, salt, and pepper.
  3. Take it off the heat, add the hot milk. Return.
  4. Cook for about 2 minutes, until sauce is smooth and thickened. You know, like a fucking béchamel sauce.
  5. Stir in cream and the onion.
  6. Cook over low heat for an hour until the sauce is reduced by a third.
  7. Stir in the crayfish butter and set aside.
  1. In a small bowl, add the yolks, cream, lemon juice, salt, and cayenne.
  2. Set the bowl in a saucepan of hot water and beat well until the sauce begins to thicken.
  3. Bit by bit, add the butter until you have a gorgeous bright yellow sauce.
  4. Set aside.
  1. Add the tails and the shallots, salt, and pepper into a skillet of hot butter. Stir until the shallots are cooked and the tails are hot all the the way through.
  2. Add the cognac and light her up. Let it burn out.
  3. Strain the sauce Nantua over the tails and cook, stirring, until the sauce is hot and bubbling. Remove from the heat and gradually stir in the Hollandaise.
  4. Divide into 4 au gratin dishes and brown for about two minutes under a hot broiler.

Bull Garlington is an award-winning author and columnist from Chicago. His newest book is The Full English, a humorous travel memoir.