When I was growing up, my family’s tradition on Easter was a crawfish boil. Catching them was almost as much fun as eating them. We would load up our crawfish traps, head to the bayous, swamps, or even roadside ditches to catch them. Then we would go home and boil them up in a huge pot along with corn and potatoes.

Norm and I continued this tradition for many years when we lived on Lake Pontchartrain (in a house we named Sundown Bayou) and all my friends and family would come over to celebrate and feast.

Time did what it always does and changed while I wasn’t looking. I hadn’t been to a down-home crawfish boil in a long time…until this weekend.

The menfolk in my family are usually the ones to do the outdoor cooking, and it was no different this weekend when I was invited to a crawfish boil in northeastern Louisiana.

The crawfish were well seasoned, but not so spicy that my lips hurt too bad after sucking the crawfish heads. That’s my personal indicator that the mudbugs are over-spiced – burning lips.

Well, your lips are going to burn a little when eating boiled crawfish, but they shouldn’t be on fire. Not if the cooks know what they’re doing, and this bunch knew what they were doing.

They allowed me to document their wizardry for you.

Begin the process by seasoning the water in which you will boil the dads. Fill an 80-quart pot about 2/3 full of water. (You want just enough water to cover the crawfish.) It will take 30-60 minutes for the water to come to a boil for the first batch.

When the water comes to a rolling boil, put the boil basket into the pot and add the seasonings.

First of all, you will need salt. Mama always said that the salt helps the crawfish absorb the seasonings, and without enough salt, the crawfish will be bland. So you’ll start with 52 oz. In addition to salt, you will need 16-24 oz liquid crab boil (depending on how spicy you like them), 8-12 oz cayenne pepper, 6 onions, 6 lemons, garlic. Instead of liquid crab boil, you could use crawfish boil “bags” or the powdered kind. It’s a matter of preference. For an extra kick, I use both in – the liquid boil and the bags .

Mama always said taste the water. If you dip your finger in it, and it tastes salty enough, then it is. If it doesn’t taste salty, add more. When the water comes to a rolling boil, add some potatoes and corn on the cob. Some people also like to add andouille. Boil for 10-15 minutes, depending on the size of the potatoes.

Now, you need live crawfish, too, of course. These are thirty-pound sacks. We had four sacks of these to feed about twenty people. Mama always told me to estimate about 5 pounds per person at a crawfish boil, and more if you want leftovers for making crawfish bisque.

While the potatoes are boiling, “purge” the crawfish – this means to force them to expel their bodily wastes. If you don’t, they will taste like mud – gritty. Hence the name “mudbugs.”  To do this, start by hosing off the crawfish in the sack. Then, empty the sack into an ice chest or a galvanized tub; add just enough to cover the crawfish. Add salt – about 26 oz – to the water and soak them for 10 minutes. Drain the water and repeat (if necessary), depending on how dirty they are.

Now back to the potatoes. Remove the potatoes, corn, and sausage when the potatoes are ready. Finally, it’s time to add the crawfish.

Boil the bugs for 4 minutes. Kill the fire and let them soak for 15 minutes. Soaking them is the secret to perfectly seasoned crawfish – if you try to rush and skip this step, they will taste bland, no matter how much salt and cayenne you put in the pot. No one wants bland crawfish – not even the children!

After 15 minutes, take one out and taste it. If they’re not spicy enough for you, leave them in for longer (oh, about 5-10 minutes more).

Take the basket out of the pot with a long-handled paddle and dump onto a table lined with newspaper. Or, you can get a tray and serve yourself. I started with about 2 pounds, I think.

Now, while everyone else is chowing down, turn the fire back on and prepare the next batch. After the third batch, dump out the water and start over. And, at most Louisiana crawfish boils, we add more spice to the last batch – the one reserved just for adults.

Now, let’s eat!

Here’s a demonstration on how to peel them, for you crawfish-eating novices:

1. Pull off the head. Suck the juices out of the head if you are so inclined. I am so inclined.

2. On the body, peel off the first two joints of the shell.

3. Finally, pinch the tail at the bottom, and pull the meat out of the shell. Some people pull the meat out with their teeth, but if you do it that way, you will be eating the vein as well. I don’t like the grittiness of the vein, so after I pull the meat out of the shell, I pull off the vein.

4. Pop it into your mouth, repeat about another thousand times! Yum!

I’ll show you how to make crawfish bisque with the leftovers next time. ❤

Careful – they pinch!

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