Of course, The Ritz-Carlton takes the humble seafood-and-spice backyard boil and elevates it to something even more special. The hotel hosts an annual Mudbugs and Bubbles series of soirées in its swank hidden courtyard, a white-brick-lined sanctum with a columned gazebo crowned with a wrought-iron curlicue dome, a trickling fountain guarded by a pair of lion sculptures and bountiful greenery, like palms, ferns and topiaries. And the property makes it a thoroughly New Orleans affair — the festive April 24 event featured live Louisiana bluegrass music from local band Bogue Chitto and an appearance by the champagne-loving Merry Antoinettes krewe, whose members showed up in their 18th-century finest with bodices, hoop skirts and big curls.
But the main event is the food: all-you-can-eat succulent crawfish made by the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star hotel’s expert chefs paired with free-flowing Veuve Clicquot in orange goblets. Presiding over the meal is a crawfish concierge, who rolls a cart from table to table scooping a heaving portion of the fragrant seafood, andouille sausage, potatoes, mushrooms, onions and corn on the cob onto a silver jelly roll pan for each partygoer. The mountain of crustaceans looks intimidating to the uninitiated, but the crawfish concierge, chef Jason “Rosie” Flato, demonstrates how to properly peel and eat it. The Louisiana native shares that while deshelling one, locals suck the discarded head, which holds in flavorful juices.
While crawfish look like miniature lobsters, their sweet white meat tastes like a cross between shrimp and crab. The Ritz-Carlton’s citrus-heavy version packs heat and flavor that comes from soaking the crawfish in granulated garlic, mustard seed, Chinese red pepper, cayenne, clove, salt, tangerine, lemon and pineapple, Flato said. But the recipe needs something more. “Timing and temperature are the secrets,” he said. “After 15 minutes, keep tasting.”
First harvested in south-central Louisiana’s Atchafalaya swamp, crawfish reside in freshwater streams, ponds and rivers under rocks and along the sandy floor, which is how they got the nickname mudbugs. But the spiny lobster goes by many names. Louisianans call it crawfish. Northerners refer to it as crayfish. And those in Kansas, Arkansas and Oklahoma use the term crawdad.
In Louisiana, peak crawfish season runs from March to May, and that’s when you see the seafood popping up at New Orleans markets, restaurants and neighborhood boils. Locals wait all year to enjoy the popular Cajun staple. This is the fifth year that The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans has held Mudbugs and Bubbles, and the next edition is set for May 14.