Crawfish Mac and Cheese



One crustacean does exist naturally in the Midwest, and that is the crayfish. "Crawfish," "crawdads," "mudbugs," "yabbies" – whatever you call them, are commonly found in Nebraska waters. Most anglers catch them to use as bass bait, but I think eating them is a better idea. Crayfish are related to lobsters, and they taste pretty darn close, though much smaller in size.

It's difficult to find a place where there are lots of them. Rick and I have yet to find a good crawfish hole near us, but a reliable source every year is when the canals are drained in October. We usually have to drive 3 hours to get to them, but it's worth a trip. 

Crayfish like to congregate in the tunnels of these canals and the rocky, rip rap pools near the entrances. Wearing duck waders, we walk along these areas and drag dip nets against the bottom. Turn over some rocks and you may find a few hiding in the mud, hence the name "mud bugs." Some years are better than others.

If you are able to find a mess of them, that's great! But remember to leave some behind so that they can reproduce for the next year. If you only find a few, recipes like this crayfish mac and cheese are good choices. Everyone gets a bit of crayfish to taste, while leaving the table full. 

Servings: 4-6
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cooking Time: 40 minutes
Ingredients:
- 1 pound of cooked crayfish tail meat, peeled
- 1 pound of uncooked cellentani pasta or equivalent
- 1 quart of whole milk
- 4 cups of Gruyere (or Swiss) cheese, shredded
- 2 cups of Kerrygold Reserve cheddar, shredded
- 1 stick (8 tablespoons) of butter, divided 
- 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour
- Kosher salt, to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- 1 cup of Panko breadcrumbs
- Freshly chopped parsley, for garnish

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook pasta according to package directions for al dente and drain. 

2. Heat milk in a saucepan until steamy, but not boiling. In a large non-stick pot, melt 6 tablespoons of butter and then add 1/2 cup of flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, whisking constantly. Still whisking, add the hot milk and cook for 1-2 minutes until thickened and smooth. 

3. Take the mixture off the heat. Add the Gruyere, Irish cheddar, salt, cayenne pepper and nutmeg and stir until the cheese has incorporated into the sauce. Stir in the cooked pasta and crayfish. Pile the mixture into a baking dish(es).

4. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and combine with Panko breadcrumbs. Sprinkle mixture of the mac and cheese, and bake for 30-40 minutes or until the pasta turns golden on top and cheese is bubbly. Allow the mac and cheese to rest 10 minutes before serving with freshly chopped parsley on top. 



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