It’s hard to picture the first man (or woman, let’s try not to be sexist) who wandered through the swamp and plucked a crawdad from the mud thinking let’s eat this fellow. Even after they assumed the guy was edible, it had to take more than a couple of tries to figure where the meat was and how to get to it. Whoever this man, or woman, was we owe him (or her) a cajun size debt of gratitude for introducing the world to this delicacy. There are few animals on earth that lend themselves as well to a crowd of people and an ice chest full of beer.
The number one complaint I hear uttered from the strange folks who claim to dislike crawfish is that there isn’t enough meat, it’s too hard to get to, and it’s not worth the work. The response to each of these is keep eatin’. A crawfish boil is much more than a meal, it’s an event. A successful boil is one where you find a group of people you don’t mind hanging around, eat crawdads until your eyes water, rinse the spice from your mouth with a cold beer, and repeat until the sun goes down. It’s true that there’s not much meat in an individual crawfish, but that’s why you plan on eating three to four pounds in a sitting – which also provides plenty of practice at detaching the nugget of meat from the tail.
yum, yum...ready to boil this sucker
There are numerous methods for preparing crawfish but what it all boils down to (and yes, the pun was intended…so please enjoy it) is that the crawfish need to be cooked until the meat is firm and slides easily from the tail. Undercooked crawfish have a mushy, slimy quality and the meat breaks apart when you try to pull it from the tail. Overcooked ones are chewy, stick to the shell, and are a real pain to deal with. I’m not going to hop into the debate about the best method for boiling crawfish, but I will highly recommend the one outlined below and personally guarantee that it delivers a fantastic product.
This process is highly influenced by the time I spent working in the kitchen of a cajun restaurant and has been perfected by boiling through thousands of pounds of the little suckers. One of the best features is that it calls for continuously cooking crawdads in small batches as opposed to preparing the whole lot at once. Eating crawdads is a social event that you don’t want to rush through; count on spending a few hours around the table washing ’em down with conversation and cold beer. Since they taste best steaming hot, it makes sense to eat from small batches of freshly cooked ones instead of plucking from a mountain of critters that grows colder with each suck of the head.
relaxin' and waitin' for the boil
- crawdads (2 – 4 lbs per person, 5 – 10 per cajun)
- red potatoes*
- boiling spice
- butter, melted**
- fresh lemons (4 -5)
- cayenne pepper
- garlic salt
*Goes without saying, but I feel obligated to say it anyway…use some judgement on quantities, think about whose coming. Crawfish are the star so there’s no reason to overload on other items, at the same time potatoes are cheap so might as well have more rather than less. I usually plan on one head of corn per person. Sausage always goes fast, especially if there are folks that refuse to work on the crawfish (there’s almost always a couple), so again I recommend more than rather less…but that’s kind of my motto.
**LOTS of butter. You’ll want some for tossing the cooked crawdads and more melted in small cups on the table for dipping.
1. set up boiling pot
kissin' the crawdad
Cookin’ crawdads is an outside job, so go ahead and discard any notion you had of boiling these things on your kitchen stove. You’re gonna want a propane burner and a large pot with a basket insert set up under a shade tree in the yard. Follow the directions of a commercial spice mix (Zatarain’s is easy to find and makes a decent product) to spice the water. Then, accept the fact that no brand is going to do the trick by itself and add another cup of salt and a few heaping spoonfuls of cayenne. Squeeze in lemon juice and toss in the peels. Stir to mix well. Bring to a rolling boil.
2. prep potatoes, corn, and sausage
The veggies and sausage call for very little prep work. All that’s required is to shuck the corn. Then, cut each ear in half to make ’em more manageable. The potatoes need to be quickly rinsed and then sliced in half. Finally, cut the sausage into 1/2 inch rounds.
This is also a good time to make the spice mix you’ll be tossing crawdads in later. It’s just a simple combination of the boiling spice you are using, cayenne pepper, and garlic salt. A good combo is 2 parts boiling spice, 1 part cayenne, and 1 part garlic salt.
3. purge the crawfish
turtle full of live crawdads
The first step in preparing a crawfish is to clean up the little mudbugs. Dump ’em into a large ice chest and hose ’em down with the drain open. Once the water starts draining clear, close the drain and allow water to cover the crawdads. Dump in a couple of cups salt and give a quick stir to mix. Allow crawfish to soak in salted water for 3-5 minutes before re-opening drain. Continue rinsing with fresh water until water drains without any visible mud. Leave crawdads in ice chest and place in shady area until ready to cook. Do not leave covered in water as this will cause them to drown and dead crawdads are useless for our purpose.
4. cook potatoes and corn
Compared to the other ingredients, the potatoes are slow cookers. Easiest thing to do is cook ’em all first and leave them in a pan covered with foil until you’re ready to eat. Then, toss into the water until they are steaming hot. Since, they’ll be going back in, cook the potatoes until they are starting to turn tender but just shy of being done. They will complete cooking on the reheat but still maintain their shape instead of turning into a mushy heap. The same process can be followed for the corn and sausage.
5. boil crawfish
pickin' out some live critters
Finally, the main event! First, finish whatever beer is currently in your hand and grab a fresh, cold one from the chest. Make sure the water is at a rolling boil and the steam emanating from the pot has enough spice to make you sneeze when you lean in close. If not, add some and give a few good stirs. Using a pair of long tongs, pull live crawfish from the main supply and stack in a large bowl – again, under no circumstance should you add a dead crawdad to the pot. Once the bowl is full (roughly 3-4 pounds) dump live crawfish into the boiling water and cover with lid. In about 5 minutes you should notice a stream of steam escaping from beneath the lid that indicates you are almost done. Let ’em go for another minute or two, then open the lid. Crawdads should be a dark red color and the water should be rolling over them. Remove from water, drain, and dump in a large clean bowl. Throw a scoop of melted butter on top, add a couple of spoonfuls of spice mixture, and toss to evenly coat.
Best serving process is to spread newspaper out over table and just dump everything in the middle. Cook two or three batches and keep them warm by storing in a foil pan tightly covered with foil for the initial dump, after that continue supplementing with crawdads fresh from the pot. Heat potatoes, corn, and sausage and add to the pile as needed. Have a couple of rolls of paper towels spread around the table and a large trashcan accessible for discarding shells. Melted butter for dipping is always appreciated.