The Rich and Tangled History of Crawfish in Houston, Texas
If the first city you think of when someone mentions crawfish is New Orleans, no one will blame you. But you might be surprised to learn about Houston's intimate relationship with the delicious little crustaceans.
The Crazy Frenchman
It's a love affair dating back to the early 1960s, when A.J. Judice Jr., the Crazy Frenchman, first introduced Louisiana-raised crawfish at his store in Port Arthur. Judice understood the importance of advertising, and his flamboyant personality served him well.
In 1963, as a way to promote his business, he began the beloved tradition of crawfish racing to Texas. Few would argue that Judice was the godfather of crawfish in Texas, and he was later appointed a Texas Crawfish Racing Commissioner by the state's governor.
The First Infiltration of Crawfish in Houston
It would take over a year for the crawfish craze to spread from Port Arthur to Houston. 1976 is the year that the Bayou City first fell in love with the little guys. The big oil boom had brought a surge of workers from Louisiana, and with them came a passion for seafood boils.
Boils, featuring crawfish as a prominent main course, became major neighborhood events throughout the Houston summers, and restaurants sprouted up throughout the city offering po'boy sandwiches of varying levels of authenticity. But while crawfish made inroads into backyard barbecues and local seafood joints, it wouldn't yet experience the popularity it did back in Louisiana.
The Great Crawfish in Houston Explosion
Today, Houston's love for crawfish is hard to deny, but it had just as much to do with market trends as with the rich and delicious flavor packed inside those shells. Up until the early 1990s, crabs (particularly blue crabs) dominated the Houston seafood scene. But a shortage at the start of the 90’s caused prices to skyrocket, and enterprising chefs started to look at new items to draw in customers who weren't willing to pay exorbitant prices for a plateful of crab. Crawfish were the solution, and once the area's chefs got their hands on the ingredient, local foodies followed right along.
While Houston still lags behind New Orleans in crawfish production and consumption, they're leading the pack for crawfish oases outside of the Big Easy. Houston has fallen in love with mudbugs, and they don't seem interested in letting go any time soon.
Continuing a Treasured Tradition
Restaurants like Crazy Alan's Swamp Shack is proud of the rich tradition of seafood in Houston, and they often feature crawfish as a central part of their menu. Whether you're looking to have it boiled or cooked in etouffee, these restaurants are ready to prove why crawfish is every bit as delicious as their larger, armored cousins like crab and lobster.
The Houston Crawfish Invasion, texasmonthly.com
How Houston Took the Louisiana Crawfish Tradition and Made It Our Own, houstoniamag.com