Port Allen — For many south Louisiana families, it isn’t Easter without crawfish on the menu. Most will serve the crustaceans boiled or in étouffée, stew or pie. A few might offer labor-intensive crawfish bisque, but not in the quantity made during Lent by Knights of Columbus Council 2875, affiliated with Holy Family Catholic Church.
Their recipe begins with about 7,500 heads (shells) and 192 pounds of crawfish tails from Bonanza Crawfish Farms Inc. in Henderson for stuffing the heads that go into the bisque. Add 4 pounds of diced green onions; 40 pounds of bread crumbs; 60 pounds of onions, bell pepper and celery; 8 pounds of diced and minced garlic; 30 pounds of liquid eggs, plus Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning, black pepper, lemon pepper and garlic powder. Mix it all in a mixer-grinder at Bergeron’s Boudin & Cajun Meats, owned by KC member Moonie Bergeron, and get 330 to 350 pounds of mixed crawfish stuffing.
“Roux master” Terry Vincent, in charge of making the gravy, prepares 16 gallons of roux to which he adds onions, bell pepper, celery and seasonings plus an additional 24 pounds of crawfish. It’s made all at once in what the KC members call “the coffin,” a rectangular-shaped stainless steel container.
The result? About 150 gallons of crawfish bisque, enough for 950 dinners, sold for $10 a plate. Profits — last year it was almost $5,900 — go to support the local KC and for charities at Holy Family School and Holy Family church, Chairman Adrian Genre said.
They’ve used the same recipe for the past 15 years. Genre said it’s a version of a chef John Folse recipe that’s been multiplied numerous times. Before Bergeron offered his grinding machine, “the mixing process itself was more labor intensive to get a good consistency,” Genre said.
They “generally stuff heads on Wednesday and Thursday, and cook the bisque and serve on the Friday before Good Friday” at the KC Hall at 679 N. Jefferson Ave. in Port Allen, Genre said. This year, they served the bisque on March 27. Besides crawfish bisque, the dinner includes rice, corn macque choux, bread and cake. Genre said the macque choux is made in a jambalaya pot with 240 pounds of frozen corn to which is added diced tomato, a medley of onion, celery, bell pepper and butter.
The process actually began on Monday, March 23, with the ordering of the ingredients, Genre said. “We fry fish every Friday during Lent and this is our finale.”
They depend on volunteers to help with the stuffing. “KC members, wives, children, anyone we can corral,” Genre said.
Among the 25 to 30 volunteers are widows of former KC members. “They still come out and help us. They are a very dedicated group and work as hard as anybody,” Genre said.
On Wednesday, March 25, the volunteers began showing up about 4 p.m. Some would remain until 9 p.m. Some of the earliest to arrive are Betsy Gosserand, Yvonne Bourgoyne, Joan Smith, Lou Didier, Diane Bergeron, Joyce Barbier and her husband, Kenneth “Bubbie” Barbier.
“We’ve been helping all our lives,” Joyce Barbier said.
Bergeron said she’s been a volunteer for about 20 years, helping every Friday during Lent with the fish fry.
“Thank God we’ve got these ladies,” roux master Vincent said.
Volunteers clean the heads by scalding them in boiling water and baking soda, then Deputy Grand Knight Randy Guidroz rinses the scalded crawfish heads with cold water.
Most volunteers stuff the heads. They work in pairs, using pastry bags to fill the crawfish heads with one to two tablespoons of stuffing, depending on the shell’s size. “We want to make sure they are full,” Guidroz said. Next, they drop the stuffed heads into an aluminum pan holding flour. After being floured, the heads are flash-fried for a minute or two. After being cooled to room temperature, the heads are stored in a walk-in cooler at Hubbens Supermarket in Port Allen.
As he mopped the floor, Genre praised the “small army of stuffing soldiers.” The entire process is “a collective effort, to say the least,” he added.
First-time helper Gerry Hebert got instructions on how to fill the heads from KC member Walt Braud. “Put your thumb at the small end and open them up,” he told her. “Only batter the top (with flour), so when they are put in the fryer, the gravy doesn’t get too thick.”
Hebert said she volunteered because “I have time on my hands.” Jo Ann Dodd, who has helped for the past five years, chatted with Myrt Provost and Bootsie Crochet as they worked. “This is the first time I’ve stuffed heads,” Crochet said. “Usually, I help with the fish fries, (because) I’m a parishioner of Holy Family and the KCs have helped with anything we ask.”
Provost said she helps because she had family members who were Knights of Columbus members.
As the women stuffed heads, Bubbie Barbier worked in the kitchen, counting each flash-fried head. “We have a long way to go,” Barbier said at 5:15 p.m. “We have 496 now.” The count is important so they will know how many plates can be served, he said. “We like to give five or six good-size heads. If they are small, we give seven.”
“The cooking of the gravy and bisque begins at 7 a.m. on Friday and goes almost to serving time,” Genre said. “We have a lot of roux. The longer it can cook the better. … It takes a good two hours to get to boiling.”
Official serving time on Friday is from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. “We will have people lined up 1½ hours before,” Genre predicted on Wednesday. He was right. While they can eat at the KC hall, most customers took the bisque dinners to go.
Genre believes their crawfish bisque is popular because it’s “a traditional meal, and there’s the sort of novelty of it because no one wants to do it” anymore.