If You're Ever In The Mood For Crawfish Ice Cream, Head Down To Houston

"It's crawfish season, so it was a no-brainer for us," said Nickey Ngo, the owner of Red Circle in Houston. "If you live in Houston, you know it's a big deal here." The owner references different popular crawfish preparations — Viet Cajun, Louisiana Cajun — but Red Circle puts its own spin on the hearty seafood. By turning it into ice cream.

The ice cream contains butter, garlic, and (of course) crawfish. You won't be chewing chunks of crawfish meat, but it's still loaded with shellfish: Red Circle boils down a crawfish reduction and, according to one of the anchors on Houston's local Fox26 in 2022, it certainly tastes like a crawfish boil. Ngo said in a subsequent 2023 interview that she came up with the flavor while she and her husband were eating crawfish one night, juices dripping down her hands — and after a lot of tweaking, testing, and adding butter to the recipe, the flavor was finally just right.

The cream brings some sweetness to the savory concoction and mellows out some of those Cajun spices, but there's still plenty of cayenne to give it a spicy kick. Houston Food reporter Ruben Dominguez tried the crawfish ice cream during the 2023 TV segment. His first impression was the spiciness — definite Louisiana influence. Unlike the first segment in 2022 where the anchors seemed to have a hard time getting through the experience, Dominguez dug right back in and claimed he'd finish the whole thing. It's a controversial flavor, but Red Circle can't keep it in stock.

A deceptively muddy reception

The crawfish ice cream from Red Circle was so popular that it disappeared in a single weekend. It debuted in April 2019, and Red Circle brings it back multiple times throughout crawfish season each year (crawfish season in Texas generally runs from January to June, and the prime season for crawfish ice cream at Red Circle seems to be March through April). Batches sell out at all three of Red Circle's locations within about 10 days or less — sometimes a single weekend.

Looking at the comments on Red Circle's social media, though, you'd never know it. On the positive side, most of the best comments come from a place of intrigue with people saying it looks interesting and they'd try a bite. One local social media influencer admitted that she only had about six bites of her cup and wasn't a big fan. However, most of the comments on Red Circle's posts lean more towards "immediately no," puking emojis, "I'm calling the police," and pleading with God to know why.

Savory ice cream: Trending?

While it might seem out of the ordinary, Red Circle's crawfish ice cream is drawing from a recent trend. Savory flavors are becoming increasingly available in ice cream, edging from surprise and intrigue to shock and awe. On the more tame end of the spectrum are flavors like sweet corn ice cream, tomato ice cream, and Dominique Ansel's burrata soft-serve served with confit strawberries, balsamic caramel, and microbasil. Salt & Straw in Portland, Oregon serves olive oil ice cream, as well as pear and blue cheese ice cream. While they're certainly not traditional flavors, they also aren't too wild. 

Elite chefs have been using ice cream to play with textures and temperatures for years and some get even bolder with their ice cream flavors. Foie gras ice cream at spots like Temporis, uni ice cream at Chateau Hanare, and cacio e pepe ice cream at L&E Oyster Bar are just some of the many examples of those thinking outside the box. Speaking of oysters, Red Circle isn't the only one making aquatic ice cream; Aphotic, a Michelin-starred restaurant in San Francisco, makes an oyster ice cream. Then there are the stunt flavors by big brands like everything bagel ice cream, Hidden Valley Ranch ice cream, Kraft mac and cheese ice cream, and French's yellow mustard ice cream that have found their way into consumer markets. 

This trend of savory ice cream is likely to continue, as Food Technology Magazine anticipates that 2024 will see food trends dive deeper into savory desserts, push the sweet and spicy profile even farther, and start to play more with umami, sour, and bitter flavors. Red Circle Ice Cream, with its garlicky crawfish ice cream, is well ahead of the trend.