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How to make crawfish mac and cheese with a homemade sauce

Addie Broyles
Austin 360
Crawfish mac and cheese is an easy way to use up leftover crawfish or shrimp.

I confess that one of my favorite parts of either making or going to a crawfish boil is what happens toward the end.

Everyone has eaten their fill of mudbugs, leaving behind a mess of heads, claws and tail shells scattered all over a newspaper-covered table. Any leftover corn and potatoes are cold. The sausage, long gone. But there are almost always still whole crawfish that didn't get eaten.

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Maybe they are the runts of the pot, the small ones that got picked over for the big guys. Maybe they were the last few crawfish sitting in the pot, where they soaked up all those seasonings. I like to sit around with whoever else is left at the table and peel all those tails, one by one.

One complaint about crawfish is that they are a lot of work for only a little bit of meat, but once I get in the flow of peeling them, it's hard to stop, especially once you see the tails start to pile up.

My friends Roger and Emily have always hosted crawfish boils in the spring, usually around Easter. They bring all their friends and families together for a potluck, backyard egg hunt and crawfish boil, where no crawfish goes unopened.

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I'll never forget the first year I attended, Emily and her friends were glued to the table, peeling tails with gusto, knowing that in the coming weeks, they'd have enough crawfish meat for any number of Cajun dishes.

As I've become more of a crawfish lover myself, I've taken on this passion of not letting any crawfish meat go to waste. I love to eat the leftover tails anywhere I'd otherwise use shrimp, so on top of a bowl of buttery grits, in a po'boy or with pasta.

That's how I found myself making a creamy crawfish mac and cheese last week after reporting on this year's crawfish season, which was off to a slow start but is gaining steam. I had only a small handful of crawfish meat left, but it was the perfect amount to mix with a cheesy pasta.

Because I knew I would be eating the crawfish the next day, I didn't freeze the tail meat, but if you aren't going to be eating it in a day or two, the meat is best preserved in the freezer. You could use any kind of protein tossed into this mac, including grilled chicken breast or sauteed shrimp. 

Crawfish Mac and Cheese

Homemade mac and cheese used to feel like a treat, but at this point in our quarantine cooking, it's a staple. Any time I have a bunch of odds and ends in the cheese drawer, I shred or crumble all the cheeses and make a catch-all mac and cheese. The béchamel cheese sauce is so forgiving that I don't even bother to measure the ingredients any more. If the sauce feels off — too thick, too thin, too bland — all it takes is a little bit of extra cheese or a splash of pasta water or a pinch of salt to get it back on track. Use any kind of pasta you'd like here, and you can easily double the recipe if you want to have more servings. When I made homemade mac and cheese most recently, I added about 1/2 cup of leftover crawfish tail, which, as Emeril might say, definitely kicked this dish up a notch. 

— Addie Broyles

1/2 pound dried pasta (about 2 1/2 cups dried)

Salt and pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons salted butter

3 tablespoons flour

1 cup milk or cream

1 to 1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (Cheddar, Gouda, Colby Jack or a mix)

1/2 to 1 cup reserved pasta water

1/2 cup cooked and peeled crawfish tails (optional)

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add pasta. Cook according to package directions, reserving 1 cup of pasta water before draining. Set cooked pasta aside.

In the same pot, add butter. Melt over medium heat and then sprinkle the flour on top, stirring frequently, as the flour starts to cook in the butter. Cook, continuing to stir so the flour doesn't burn, for about 2 minutes.

Whisk in the milk or cream and continue to stir. As the milk warms up, the sauce will start to thicken. Add cheese and stir until melted. Pour in 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water to thin out the sauce, adding more to reach desired consistency. Taste and add any additional salt or pepper.

Add the cooked pasta and the crawfish to the pot and stir well over medium heat until well combined. Serve. 

— Addie Broyles