A Family Specialty
Regardless of what you call them: crawdads, crayfish, miniature lobsters, crawfish, yaddies (Australia), or anything else, there’s very little that fires up a good meal and family get-together than an old fashioned crawfish boil.
The process for which I’m about to share is based on personal observations on many different styles of boiling crawfish. The process which this one takes most of its credit is from my own father, a man born and raised throughout most of Louisiana. Although the process for many is different, I’ve yet to meet someone who has tasted my father’s crawfish, and then claimed to boil even better.
The process requires a number of important supplies which should be with you.
· A propane tank and burner
· A large “gumbo” pot
· Small metal hook
· Strainer basket
· Heat Insulating Box (like a large lunch box)
· An oar (we have a specially made oar)
· 2 Louisiana Crawfish Shrimp & Crab Boil
· Heat insulating gloves
· 1 sack of crawfish (depending on number of consumers)
· Corn cobs, Mushrooms, Sausage, Onions, Small Potatoes, Garlic, etc (optional)
· Hose with water
· Bag of ice
There may be other ways to do this, for example for many the very idea of Lemons and a Blender makes very little since, and the addition of an oar makes many people’s heads turn, however give it time and this will be explained. This is how my family personally prepares crawfish and had done things this way since I was very little.
Getting Things Set Up
If you’re doing things by yourself, then you’re not at much of a disadvantage; which is a good thing. The first thing you need to do is set yourself up so that the supplies are ready to be used. The propane tank should be connected to the burner and shut off so that no gas is leaking through. Place the gumbo pot on top of the burner and fill it with enough water as to submerge the strainer basket, but not too much so that the water may boil over and spill. A helpful hint is that the strainer basket usually has a handle which you need to grab later on in the process. Try not to allow the handle to be submerged as this will make your life much more difficult.
Although this is not always necessary, I recommend that you have two ice chests for the following helpful but unneeded process. Rip open one sack of crawfish and pour the crawfish into the ice chest, use the hose to spray down the crawfish. (**Beware of their tails, which often flag violently. If one were to escape, don’t panic. Get behind it and grab its upper-body directly, thus avoiding the possibility that you’ll get pinched by the crawfish’s flaws. They do hurt, but they’re not close to fatal**.) Although you don’t necessarily need to do this, I recommend that you go through each crawfish after they’ve been soaked and remove the living ones from the dead ones, also removing any grass or leaves that often are included in the sacks. Be careful! Crawfish are like possums when they are cold. If you are at all questionable about the life of the crawfish, lay it on its back and watch it. If it doesn’t move on its own, throw it in the trashcan with the rest of the dead ones.
Now that your crawfish has been sorted, turn on the propane so that it’s fueling the burner. Make sure that you have it on a lower flow rate; it truly doesn’t need to be high at all. Just enough for you to hear it should be enough. Light the burner and be careful not to burn yourself; it doesn’t take but a second to light it and it will immediately get very hot. As soon as it is lit, you only have to wait. Take this time to grab one of the sacks of crawfish boil, which you should pour in as soon as the water begins to reach its boiling point. You should be required to pour the entire bag in. Make sure to use the oar to stir the bottom of the pot, scraping any spice before it has a chance to dry to the bottom of the pot, making things difficult to clean afterwards.
Allow the pot to rest for a moment. This will give the spices enough time to dissolve completely in the water, making a bubbling red liquid. Warning: this liquid is like acid! It’s hot enough to leave you with extremely bad burns and the spices inside will only amplify your pain. By the way, if at any time during the pouring of the spices you begin to sneeze like crazy, make sure it’s because of the large amounts of pepper and not because you’re allergic. I’ve yet to meet someone allergic to this spice, but I myself have an allergic reaction to fiber-glass, so it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if someone was allergic to crawfish boil.
Cooking the Ingredients
Now for the moment you’ve been waiting for: actually cooking that lovely food. First, put the strainer in the pot and let it sink to the bottom. After this is done, gently drop the potatoes one by one into the pot. You want to avoid any and all cases of the liquid spilling or splashing over you. If you have sausage links, you may also want to chop them into smaller pieces and gently drop them in as well, for sausages and potatoes typically take longer to cook than the other sides. Let these sides cook for ten minutes, then repeat the process with the corn cobs, only this time allow for about five minutes as corn is much faster to cook. Then add onions, mushrooms, and garlic if you have any. Allow for a few more minutes, roughly 3 – 5 should be acceptable. (Typically you would drop the lid of the pot while anything is being cooked. This merely keeps the heat in. Try not to open the lid with your bare hands, however, as it may be hot. Use the oar or the gloves if you have to.)
Use the gloves to pick up the strainer by the handle. Take the metal hook to hook the bottom of the strainer to the top of the pot. This will allow time for the strainer to do its job of pour out the excess liquid. After the strainer had finished its job, take the strainer and pour the sides into the heat-isolative box. (Oversized lunchbox) It is important for you to keep these sides hot as you move on to cooking the crawfish themselves.
Before you move on to the crawfish, there is an unexpected and very helpful thing for you to do. Put whole lemons into a blender, usually just enough to fill the pitcher, and blend it until you get a nice sour goo with small chunks of lemon in it. Return to your pot and choose whether or not you’re daring enough to use the second bag of crawfish boil spices. If you choose to, apply the second bag and prepare for a burning, sweet-Cajun tongue that is soon to come! Either way, pour the entire pitcher of blended lemons into the pot.
The lemons with do two vital things for your crawfish:
a) Soaks into the meat of your crawfish, providing a delicious lemon taste to your crawfish that complements the natural flavor of your crawfish
b) Softens the shells of your crawfish and makes it easier to peel!!
Allow a minute for the lemons to mix in with the boil, when you’re ready, pour the crawfish into the strainer. You can do this any number of ways; just ensure that you get the crawfish into the strainer and that any escapees are returned to the safety of the soon-to-be boiling strainer. A helpful hint is that most strainers can fit around one full sack of crawfish, so you may have to boil the crawfish in separate batches depending on how many sacks you purchased.
Slowly lower the strainer into the boiling liquid and let them cook for around five-ten minutes. Keep a watchful eye on the crawfish so that you know when they turn the iconic bright red which you typically see in pictures. Turn off the propane and wait a few more minutes!! When they are finished, pour ½ a bag of ice onto the crawfish and let it cool for a moment. Afterwards, lift the strainer and repeat the process with the hook, draining the water from your delicious crawfish. Dump them into an empty ice chest, and alert everyone that it is time to eat.
Some people may disagree with cooking the sides separately from the crawfish, however since you added the lemons, it is highly advised that you separate the two. Lemon-flavored potatoes are weird and overpowering. With the crawfish, however, the lemon complements the natural flavors just nicely.
Many people don’t know how to peel crawfish. When I was raised, I was literally given a tray full of crawfish and told to either learn to peel them or stay hungry. I learned to peel from watching my father very closely and learned to almost match his speed. As a quick guide, I’ll attempt to tell you exactly how to peel them, although in reality you’ll more than likely adopt your own way of doing it. No two ways of peeling crawfish are usually alike.
1. Push the tail into the body, using the pressure of your fingers to also gently pinch the shell.
2. Pull the tail out of the body.
3. (optional) suck the head of the crawfish
--------a. This is mainly for the daring. It tends to disgust the majority of people, but it gives you a rush of flavor from the juices inside.
4. Peel the outer ring of the tail (the largest ring)
5. Pinch the edge of the meat with your teeth and the end of the tail with your fingers
6. Pull the meat out and eat it
7. Gently twist the claws to work the meat out of it
----------a. If failed, suck the inside of it for the delicious flavor
Couple of Things to Remember
The first thing to remember about crawfish boils is that it is largely a social event! Don’t hoard the little deliquesces to yourself. Call your family, neighbors, friends, work-bodies, etc, and invite them to come over! The most important thing about crawfish is that you share them with those around you, telling jokes and enjoying the world as you would any other party.
Another thing to remember is that there will almost always be left-over. There are thousands of ways to use any left-over food, but the taste of the great boil will stay with the food and give an additional kick to anything you use them with.
One more thing to remember, and possibly the most important, is to get rid of your trash! The great smell of crawfish one night is a disgusting smell of rotten fish the next morning. Typically it’s best to do this on nights before your garbage gets picked up for the next morning. The smell is absolutely repulsive.