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East Texas crawfish stand keeps 'em coming back

By Ryan C. Perry
April 3, 2012 at 10 p.m.

BIG SANDY - What started 16 years ago as a takeout-only crawfish stand has turned into a somewhat-sprawling, sit-down seafood establishment and music venue.

The Crawfish Stand in Big Sandy, the restaurant side of distributor Circle M Crawfish, has progressively expanded seating - the capacity is around 190 people.

It is doubtful people come to the popular crawfish stand for an elegant dining experience. The floor is covered with wood shavings, the walls and ceilings are covered with foam insulation into which patrons have sunk beer bottle caps, and people have largely disregarded the "Please do not write on the walls" signs posted where wooden walls have been built. Picnic benches are the only seating option.

Rodney Murphy, owner of the restaurant, says people come for the unique taste of the little crustaceans resembling lobsters.

"(Crawfish) isn't like anything else - it has its own taste," Murphy said. "It has a taste that people just say they crave. We have some people who come by at least three or four times a week. I have one boy who drives from Van, and he'll be here four times a week. It's like a fix to him."

With his efforts, Murphy has expanded a southern Louisiana taste to East Texas and says the Crawfish Stand has piqued area residents' interest in crawfish. Louisiana supplies more than 90 percent of the crawfish in the U.S.

"It's seems more people are eating crawfish than ever have before," Murphy says. "When we first started, it seemed like not that many people ate crawfish. It seems like every year, more people end up liking them."

Crawfish thrive in the conditions present in rice fields, and the rice farmers of Louisiana have used the little crustacean to help boost profits. Crawfish season is from early spring through June, and that is when Murphy said he sees an increase in customers at his stand.

"With them being seasonal, people try eat them when they can get them, and then they have a craving for them the other seven or eight months," Murphy said. "It makes them want them while we have them."

Although the taste is enough to bring people to the stand, this past summer's record heat drove away business. In preparation for the brutal East Texas summer, the restaurant has added air conditioning.

"We had water fans last year, but it got so hot, the water came out of the hose at about the temperature of bath water," Murphy said. "It didn't pick back up until crawfish season started back up."

The Crawfish Stand has expanded their menu to drive business when crawfish is no longer in season. The menu for includes shrimp, catfish, alligator sausage, boudin, hot links, chicken and steak.

"In the past, we cut back to five days a week Wednesday through Sunday after crawfish season," Murphy said. "This year, we're going to try to stay open seven days a week with the other items that we sell."

According to Murphy, his employees at the stand know that to keep the stand open, they have to keep putting out a superior product. The kitchen of the stand is considered one the hottest jobs in the area, so it takes a passion for cooking to keep business thriving.

"I always loved to go to crawfish boils, and I always loved to help my friends cook crawfish back when I sold seafood in Louisiana." Murphy said. "It was a lot of fun, and I like cooking. It doesn't matter that it's crawfish; I just like to cook."

One of the most popular appetizers on the menu feature the crawfish's cousin: shrimp. Murphy said the shrimp stuffed pepper accompanies just about everything on the menu. Shrimp also is more readily available than crawfish, so it is a viable menu option year round.

<strong>Shrimp stuffed peppers</strong>

<ul> <li>Jalapeño peppers</li> <li>16/20 count shrimp</li> <li>Bacon</li> <li>Philadelphia Cream Cheese</li> <li>Batter</li> <li>Liquid batter</li> </ul>

Wearing gloves, cut open a jalapeño pepper and pull out the seeds. Fill the inside of the jalapeño with cream cheese. Add a peeled shrimp on top and wrap with a piece of uncooked bacon. Run a toothpick through to hold the pepper together. Roll in batter, dip in liquid batter, and re-batter the pepper. Drop the pepper in a deep fryer for five minutes at 350 degrees.

<em>(Optional: Put pepper on a grill or in a convection oven, unbattered, for about 45 minutes at 325 degrees. Turn once.)</em>



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