We are smack dab in the middle of crawfish season, so if you haven’t had a boil at least once this year it’s time to read this guide and catch up.
By Susan Benton
Crawfish. I’m thankful for whoever decided that it was a good idea to pull a creature from the mud, wash it off and eat it. Though called a crawfish or seafood “boil”, it is really more of a simmer and poach process. This allows the tails to soak up all the spicy seasonings, and the flavors of the other ingredients to marry. Everyone has their go-to recipe for a crawfish boil. It’s like gumbo, there are so many options.
This time of year reminds me of being at college in Baton Rouge, at LSU. I had eaten more than my fair share of crawfish at many a New Orleans boil prior, but in Baton Rouge my crawfish consumption became more prevalent. I remember studying in the sorority house and when someone would just utter the word crawfish, the girls and I would be out of the door to the nearest market, picking up a bag, at yes, .99 cents per pound…boiled.
Crawfish season begins late January and runs through May. In June they are a bit harder to peel, and in January they are smaller, but anytime is a good time for a crawfish boil in my opinion.
The Basics needed for a crawfish boil are:
1) a big pot with wire basket insert
2) a propane tank
3) a burner
4) a wooden paddle
5) fresh water
8) a small bag of fresh lemons (about 5-7)
9) fresh Louisiana crawfish
10) 2 pounds of andouille or smoked sausage cut into 3-inch links
11) several rolls of paper towels plus a hefty bag lined trash can
12) newspapers to dump the crawfish on, and an underlining of plastic for easy clean up
13) Box of Saltines
14) 2 sticks salted butter room temperature (optional)
14) lots of ice-cold beer
You can find most equipment needed for a boil at any local hardware store. Get a high BTU burner like 50K and a regulator (a safety device).
The height of the burner is important, so get a lower, shorter one for boiling crawfish. You can use it at Thanksgiving to for frying up your next bird.
A 60 quart pot is the best option as you can base the sack’s of crawfish needed on your attendees. Plan on crashers too. This size pot will handle most any size sack, along with other ingredients. The paddle is also important, as you will need it to stir the crawfish. A wooden 36 inch paddle will do.
For 6-8 normal crawfish eating people you will need at least 30 pounds of crawfish.
4 to 5 pounds per person is typical, though I can easily put away more and so can my family. Those not so familiar or passionate about the mud bug, may only eat 2 pounds. You can always use them in dishes the following days ahead, so don’t fret about leftovers.
Buy from a seafood dealer you know and respect, that has a reputable business. The dealer can also order them for you if not on hand. Here is a great list of Louisiana dealers.
If they are filthy, and full of gunk, then the dealer has taken advantage of you and your money. Also, make sure your sack of crawfish are all about the same in size so that they will cook evenly.
Another option is to buy farmed crawfish online, which I have done in the past with cajuncrawfish.com. They arrive fresh, clean, with seasoning and instructions, right to your front door.
To purge or not to purge. I do, just without the salt. Old school New Orleanian’s, and Cajun’s might disagree.
I rinse the crawfish well in the sack, and then open it, submerging the crawfish in fresh water using the basket in the pot, multiple times over an 8-12-hour period until the used water is clear, removing any dead ones that float to the top.
Time For Spice:
If not making your own spice mix, use Zatarain’s, or the 4 pound bag of Slap Ya Mama as it does not contain MSG. Both are available at most local supermarkets. Follow the directions on the labels. Both already contain salt, the latter brand less. I prefer to let the flavors of crawfish shine, you can add more salt (like Morton’s) to taste, for preference.
- 1 30-pound sack of crawfish cleaned
- 1 bag of fresh lemons, halved
- 1 bunch celery with leaves cut into thirds
- 5 whole garlic heads sliced in half top to root
- 5 onions peeled and cut in half top to root
- 1 bag of small red potatoes (not cut) and washed, larger potatoes cut in ½
- 1-2 packs whole mushrooms, dusted (I use a makeup blush brush)
- 2 pounds of Andouille or smoked sausage cut into 3 inch lengths
- 1 .12 ounce bottle of Bay Leaves
- ½ cup celery powder
- 60-70 ounces of Seafood Boil Seasoning for 30 pounds of crawfish
- 4 ounces liquid crab boil (8 oz bottle)
- Frozen mini corn (16 need for 2 per person)
- Fill the pot 50 percent of the way with fresh water, and turn on the burner.
- Add dry and liquid seafood seasoning products, celery powder and bay leaves.
- Squeeze lemons into the pot and add the halved lemons as well.
- Add onions, celery and garlic to pot and bring to a boil.
- It takes about 20-30 minutes (with the right burner) to get the water and seasoning mix to a hard rolling boil.
- Add crawfish into the boil and stir, also softly folding the mixture with the wooden paddle for about 5 minutes, it will die down and will simmer.
- Put the lid on, wait 5 minutes and add the potatoes, putting the lid back on.
- Check back in 5 minutes for a quick stir, and add the mushrooms, sausage and stir, putting the lid back on.
- At this point the crawfish have been in the pot about 15 minutes.
- During the cooking process, the water/mixture should not come to a hard rolling boil again. More like a simmer with bubbles.
- At 20 minutes, cut off the flame, check the crawfish and close the lid.
- Steeping the crawfish will increase the spice and enhance the flavor.
- At 25 minutes add the mini corn while crawfish are still sitting high in the pot, and stir about every 5 minutes, as this releases the heat
- Note: You can also hose down the exterior of the pot so it will cool down faster.
- Taste the crawfish every 5 minutes for the next 10-15 minutes until done. If the tail meat is rubbery, the crawfish is undercooked, if mushy and falling apart, it is overcooked. You are looking for a firm tail, juicy head and great spice.
- The crawfish will begin to sink. The sinking means they are ready to eat and have absorbed all of the flavor.
- Pull the basket out (this often requires two people), set the basket on the ground for a few minutes to drain, and pour the crawfish onto a table prepped with newspapers for all to enjoy.
How to peel a crawfish:
Grab the head firmly with one hand and grab the tail with the other hand.
Break the crawfish in the middle, then put your lips on the opening of the head to suck out the juices.
Peel off the first segment of the shell around the tail, and then pinches the end so the tail meat pops out.
Use a disposable plastic table cloth, or shower curtain liner on the table. Lay the newspapers over the top. Pour the basket of crawfish in the middle. Place rolls of paper towels on the table as well as sleeves of Saltines, and a couple of sticks of unsalted butter at room temperature in dishes with a butter knife. Salt, and additional Cajun seasoning are also great condiments for a crawfish boil.
Note: I happen to be addicted to smashing the boiled garlic with the butter, slathering it on a Saltine, and topping it with the peeled crawfish. My thing.
Make sure cold beer is nearby in a cooler with ice, along with a lined trash can for crawfish remains and trash.
Peel the leftover crawfish if there are any. Use them in etouffee, pies, salad with remoulade dressing, on french bread with melted cheese, and more. See crawfish recipes on 30A Eats Pinterest.
Use the potatoes for a fantastic potato salad or to make spicy mashed potatoes.
Smash the garlic pods and add to room temperature unsalted butter, chill, and use in a variety of dishes or to top grilled steak
So… What did I leave out? What do you like to add to your boil? Hot dogs, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, artichokes? Leave suggestions in the comments below, I’d love to hear.
Susan Benton is the go to resource for foodies visiting Pensacola to Panama City Beach. She is a food and travel journalist with published articles and photography in many local, regional and national publications. Her website is 30AEATS.com where she writes about the secrets of Gulf Coast food.