Mardi Gras, in the South, signals the opening of my second favorite season, crawfish season (football season would be a southerner’s first favorite). These tasty little mud dwellers have been a part of southern history since the merging of Native American and European culture in Louisiana centuries ago. Throwing a crawfish boil is a rich Southern Tradition that brings comfort food and friends together to enjoy the outdoors before the sweltering heat and humidity, of the deep south, drives us all back indoors to our other southern heritage, “Air Conditioning”. In honor of this great season, now part of a recurring annual event, The Hungry Southerner and friends throw a crawfish boil to enjoy the spring weather and spread our Southern Traditions with those that haven’t been a part of this great cultural food event. Here is the “Southerner’s Guide” to a great crawfish boil.
Say it with me, “Preparation, Preparation, Preparation”. Unless you live within an arm’s length of a crawfish farm, your going to need a little prep time to pull a crawfish boil together (your efforts will be greatly rewarded). With the modern advent of over night food delivery, you can pretty much have crawfish flown anywhere in the continental U.S.A. for a reasonable price. Buyers beware, you’re looking for certified Louisiana live crawfish, don’t be fooled by the imitation stuff that has made its way over from China and Thailand (Southerner’s always eat local). If I can get it, I prefer crawfish out of the farms in Lafayette, LA but the key is Louisiana. Try to find a supplier in your area if you can. Here in Atlanta,GA we used the Crawfish Shack Seafood and were very pleased with their prices and friendly, family, service. I always suggest, on average, to order 2.5 pounds per person that will be eating, but if you have some big crawfish eaters, don’t be afraid to order as much as 4 pounds per person. If you don’t eat them all, just peel the tails and freeze them for etoufee later.
Like any great southern meal your going to need to serve sides, in this case we’ll go with potatoes, corn, and sausage. No boil is complete without these delicious ingredients cooked alongside the crawfish, soaking up all those spices and flavors. How much of the sides is up to you. I usually go with half an ear of corn , 2-3 small red potatoes, and 1/4 a link of andouille (can substitute smoked sausage) per person. If you want to add even more flavor, get some bags each of vidalia onions, heads of garlic, and lemons to be halfed and boiled to further season the water. All of these ingredients will be cooked in a single pot, so you’ll want to portion these out evenly based on the the number of pots of crawfish you plan on cooking, which means we are ready to talk about pots and seasonings.
Now that you have your guests, crawfish, sides and stamina your going to need a massive pot(s) to cook with, and the magical fairy dust known as crab boil. Why do I lump these two pieces together? Because of the secret to my success. I always mix liquid and dry crab boil seasonings in each pot of boiling crawfish, so you’re going to need to know how much crawfish your pot can boil. Size does matter, so get the largest pot(s) you can find with a basket (at least a turkey fryer size). Also, don’t forget to pair each pot with an equally large and capable burner. You are going to want the water to come up to the quickest boil possible. My general rule is 1lb of dry seasoning per 15lbs of crawfish, plus I start each pot off with an ample amount of liquid crab boil and 1 cup of salt to add extra heat and seasoning early. I only add liquid boil once in each pot at the beginning, and re-season each pot with 1lb of dry boil mix per batch of 15lbs of crawfish boiling. I want the flavor of the last batch of crawfish to be just as lip licking spicy as the first. There are lots of great crab boil seasonings, liquid and dry, I prefer Zatarain’s or Louisiana Seasoning.
The day of the boil your going to want to take your crawfish off the bag of ice keeping them cool and put them freely in a large empty ice chest and start hosing them off every so often. Don’t drown the crawfish in water, they just need to stay moist and cool, just keep the drain open and rinse them off to get them clean. You can try purging them by dousing the crawfish with salt every so often and rinsing them with water, but its not necessary. When you’re ready to start cooking, fill your pot(s) (basket in) with the right amount of water and start bringing it up to a boil, when it starts getting close, pour in the correct amount of seasoning as mentioned above. When the water gets up to a rolling boil your ready to cook. This may take a while so keep something cool to drink on hand, maybe a large pitcher of old fashioned sweet tea.
Cooking crawfish is really easy, almost fool proof, so just remember not to over boil! Its all about timing, so have a stop watch handy. Once the water is at a rolling boil your going to start adding your sides, go ahead and drop them in the pot (onion,garlic and whole lemon halves if you like as well). Let them boil for 5 minutes early, then its time to add the crawfish. Drop in the amount of crawfish you want to cook and let the water come back up to a boil. Let the crawfish boil for 2-3 minutes,no longer, then stir the pot with a stick, paddle or neighbors flip flop and cut the burner off. Then close the lid on the pot and let the crawfish rest and soak in all those flavors for 15-20 minutes depending on how spicy you want them mud bugs to be. When you’re ready to serve, cover a table with newspaper and dump those delicious treats out for everyone’s display. Shake a little Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning on top, and dig in.
Here’s how you eat: pinch the tail and suck the head. When you are ready for the next batch bring the water back to a boil, re-season and start over until they are all gone. If its a late night of crawfish eating, put on a pot of Cafe Du Monde Chicory coffee, and fry up a batch of Beignets for desert. You’ll be telling tales until you eat again next year. Enjoy Y’all !