How To Prepare A Cajun Crawfish Boil
How To Buy, Prepare, Season And Serve Up A Cajun Crawfish Boil
From March through June and even a little bit into July--it's crawfish season. That means just one thing--crawfish are being harvested by the sack full.
Crawfish (also known as, crawdads, mudbugs or even crayfish) being brought in this year are really big and plump. With that being said, it's time to learn how to buy, prepare, season and serve up a Cajun Crawfish Boil. Don't be afraid, it's really easy.
First, you need to buy some Crawfish:
Besides the coastal fresh fish markets, store supermarkets and so forth, there are tons of roadside stands that carry Fresh, Live Crawfish. They are sold by the sack (usually in 30-40 lb sacks at roughly $2- $3/lb) A good rule of thumb for how much to cook is to figure 2-3 lbs. of Crawfish per person. If you have someone with a big appetite? 5-7lbs. per person should fill the bill. Buy two bags of ice as well.
When you are buying the Crawfish?
ASK The Vendor----"Have these crawfish have been rinsed and purged already?" If not they should be rinsed, purged and cooked within 24 hours.(I'll explain 'purging' later on) First thing though? Before you do anything else after arriving home? Pour a couple bags of ice in an ice chest and then lace the live Crawfish (still in their bag) in that big old ice chest and cover the bag with a cloth. (leave the icechest drain open and tilt the chest to drain) Don't bury the crawfish in the ice just set the bag on top of the ice, as the crawfish need to breathe. The idea is to just keep 'em cool and moist while preparing everything else.
Now it's time to start the crawfish pot full of water to boil. Add no seasonings and only fill the pot about 2/3'ds full of cold water. Let it boil while you go to the next stage in preparing your Cajun crawfish boil.
Preparing a Cajun Crawfish boil is not only easy, but fun as well.
Preparing Your Crawfish
SAVE THE CRAWFISH SACK for later
The first step in preparing your crawfish is to rinse and clean them,
I open the bag of crawfish and pour it back into that same, big old ice chest I had it in when I got home (leave the drain open) Fill the ice chest with water. (If you don't have a big ice chest or even a galvanized washtub w/ a drain, a bathtub will work for this part of your crawfish preparation )
Set the empty crawfish bag aside as we'll use it as a boiling sack for our veggies later on.
This is important so pay attention:
While rinsing the crawfish, keep them moving around as the water circulates to get the mud and crud off them (now you know why they are nicknamed mudbugs) While this process is going on, search out and toss the dead crawfish. (they will get mushy when cooked and taste really bad anyway, so DON'T save them.)
You want the crawfish semi-floating for this process, as the stirring and looking for dead one's could be harmful if their bodies were not mostly supported by the water. Wear gloves during this stage too because it's easy to get bit since they are still pretty active. But that choice is yours.. As the water drains, keep adding fresh water and continue to toss the dead one's as you find them.
The Crawfish MUST be clean
Repeat this process as many times as is necessary to clean them. You'll know you're done because the water will be clear. Most of all? Don't just fill the cooler (or tub) completely with water to let them soak, the crawfish will drown. Keep the water moving--fill and drain--fill and drain.
Time to purge
Once the crawfish are cleaned and rinsed. (close the drain for a few minutes). Add enough fresh water to just barely cover them. This part of your crawfish preparation is called the 'Purge.'. Take your container of Morton Salt and coat the crawfish very liberally, mixing it around in the water. You leave this mixture for no more than 3-4 minutes. This step irritates the crawfish and they hate it. (A rule of thumb: Use about 2/3 of a full Morton salt container)
After the 3-4 minutes, open the drain and rinse completely, repeating as necessary (a second rinse should do it). You will now see the Crawfish squirming all over before they start to vacate by throwing up and pooping and peeing. Yep, that's why this step is called purging, as they are ridding their shells of all toxins and waste. Don't be afraid to use a lot of salt and mix it all around. (I use nearly the entire container each time for 35 lbs. of crawfish before completely rinsing and draining the ice chest.)
Before adding your Crawfish:
The water should be boiling by now, so add the following: My seasoning of choice, (Zatarain's or Slap Ya Mama), bay leaves, garlic in a bag (see below) sliced to expose the cloves, a few lemon quarters and let it boil. At this time, I also start my potatoes (still in their sack) leaving the bag in the water for about ten minutes to give them a jump start before I add my crawfish. Like many people, I also like some good Andouille Sausage to eat with my crawfish, (I cook my sausage separately on my BBQ so as to avoid a greasy coating on my crawfish) When it's done, I slice it up and set it aside until my crawfish and potatoes are done. The same applies to my frozen corn cobettes, (I don't cook the corn till nearly the end, the last 5-10 minutes the crawfish are in the cooker.
Since corn takes very little time to cook I add it last--to cool the crawfish.
Buy and use the pot I use. Make no mistake....if you have seen similar pots in your local big box retailer? Believe me, they do not compare to the quality of this boiling pot combo. There are cheaper pots out there, but like my Mama always said: "You get what you pay for." Check out the reviews on Amazon before you fall prey to lesser quality boiling pots. This pot is just that, quality that will last for years and years and years and it's perfect for my needs, The 80 quart capacity more than suffices even when a houseful shows up for crawfish or crab. It's a heavy duty, all aluminum pot with basket, lid and basket lifting handle.
Evaluation: Contains everything necessary for the best cajun crawfish boil (except the crawfish or crab.) Comes with a one year limited warranty, a complete recipe booklet and FREE Shipping right to your door.
Start The Potatoes Beforehand
They even come in their own boiling sack
I happen to like the red potatoes with my crawfish, but feel free to use any favorite kind, just make sure they are small. The good thing about crawfish cooking is that there is no limit to the combinations of veggies that can be cooked with them.
Boil in the bag
The bag of potatoes to the right, is a commercially available sack of potatoes sold commonly in most supermarkets. The cool thing is that they are in a boiling bag. It can be placed inside before the crawfish, to kind of get a head start in cooking. I find these potatoes in their own boil bag, ideal for my use. But...if they are not available in a boil bag, fear not as red potatoes can still be cooked in the bag the crawfish came in.
To cook before adding to the crawfish
To eliminate a step of cooking the potatoes in the house beforehand, here is a totally optional suggestion. With everything rinsed and purged and while the pot is heating up with lemon slices and garlic cloves and such? I put the potatoes (in their own boil sack or the crawfish sack) directly into the pot, leaving the top of the bag hanging over the edge of the pot. After the water starts boiling, I set the timer for 10 minutes so the potatoes have some time to cook. When done, I open the potato bag and dump the potatoes into a separate pot. I lift the basket from the pot and drain.
NOTE: Save the potato sack if you don't have one for your cloves, corn bobette's or other veggies.
If you don't have boiling bags for your garlic cloves, these steeping bags make a great re-usable bags for just that. They have a myriad of uses really, but for today, we're going to use them for our garlic.
Evaluation: The bags are just the right size for garlic cloves. Usable size (up to the cinch at the top) is 7" x 10" Using this bag for your garlic means your guests won't bite into a small piece of garlic that splintered away during cooking. Stock up today.
To make the Best Cajun Crawfish Boil
Here are your ingredients:
The quantities listed here are for a 35-40 lb. bag of Crawfish but can be added to or deducted amounts accordingly depending upon how much crawfish is being boiled.
( 1 ) 35-40 lb. bag of live fresh Crawfish
( 6 ) lemons halved or quartered
( 6 ) cloves of garlic sliced lengthwise
( 5 ) lbs of Andouille sausage or smoked sausage
( 6 ) lbs small red potatoes
( 2 ) pkg of 6 frozen corn cobettes
( 2 ) 12 oz bottles of bay leaves
( 2 ) 1 lb. packets of 'Slap Ya Mama' powdered Crab Boil seasoning
( 1 ) tablespoon of Zatarain's Liquid Crab boil seasoning
( 1 ) Large Moron's salt (you will use almost all of it salting the crawfish for purging)
( 1 ) teaspoon of Black pepper
A large (3 gallon minimum) boiling pot with removable basket
A large wooden stirring blade to stir the crawfish, etc
A couple or three boiling bags for the potatoes and corn (Use the empty crawfish bag if you don't have these
( 1 ) large sweet onion, quartered to release flavors
( 1 ) package of sliced mushrooms (washed in cold water)
( 1 ) Complete stalk of celery, chopped fine.(cut away and discard both ends)
Best Cajun Crawfish Boil Tools - The right stuff for the job
A CampingmanNW recommendation: When ordering items sold by Amazon that DO NOT offer FREE Shipping, consolidate your orders in order to obtain the free shipping. After all, it's NOT about being cheap, it's about shopping smart.
I use this seasoning on almost everything, even hash browned potatoes to give it that extra zing. It's a southern staple and if you plan to cook Cajun style? Well, you need to have this available.
Evaluation: I stopped using Lawry's seasoning salt years ago when I found this. That doesn't mean Lawry's is bad, just that I prefer this and so will you once you try it. I have my entire family now using it as well. I can honestly say I use it on almost everything. Buy some and you will agree.
Submerge The Crawfish Slowly Into The Boiling Water
I wear gloves and use a steel hanger to lift the pot in and out of the water
I use and love Zatarain's or Slap Ya Mama Crawfish, Shrimp and Crab Boil seasonings, but follow the directions. Depending upon 'How' spicy you like it, here's a suggestion: Use four of the 4 oz Zatarain's packages, not six as is recommended or ( 2 ) 1 lb bags of Slap Ya Mama for three gallons of water. (enough for 35 lbs of crawfish)
I remove the sack full of potatoes from the pot and set them aside to let my water get back to boiling.The water must be boiling well because the ice cold crawfish will stop that as soon as I put them in the water. I fill the basket with my now highly excited and squirming crawfish Next, I slowly insert the basket into the boiling water. Remember, that water is scalding hot, so DO NOT drop the basket into the tub, slowly set it in place. It doesn't even hurt to insert it in and then slowly pull it back out and back in a few times, just to move the crawfish around in the boiling water.
The water will almost instantly stop boiling because of the cold crawfish, but, once it starts to boil again?
Stir the crawfish around with your wooden paddle, (see below) to mix everything. Now cover the pot and set the timer for five minutes. When the timer goes off? Turn OFF the heat, lift the lid and stir again add your potatoes and then cover the pot and let it sit for an additional 15-20 minutes or so to allow time for the juices to get all through the shells. Continue stirring occasionally. Finally, In the last 5 minutes of that time while all of the crawfish are floating. is when you add the frozen corn. When the crawfish finally sink, they have absorbed all of the seasoning the are going to absorb and are ready.
The best advice I can give you?
Don't let your crawfish sit in the water too long or the shells will become hard to peel.
If You Are Going To Make The Best Cajun Crawfish Boil - You need good equipment.
The Bayou Classic Stainless steel cooker with windscreen works really great outside. The wind screen makes it the perfect cooker and you don't have to worry about the wind blowing out your propane unless you're in a gale. This model eliminates any burning paint like other models. It has a four foot hose for the propane tank hook up. I mean really! It's all here except you and a pot.
Evaluation: The only thing I did was buy a new pot to go with my new base. From someone who boils lots of seafood, beleive me when I say : it's an awesome unit and the FREE Shipping doesn't hurt either
Now That The Best Cajun Crawfish Are Done
Drain and remove from pot
Remove the basket from the pot
Pull the basket out of the pot slowly and allow the water to drain. The crawfish should be a nice orange and pink color now and it's ok to tilt the pot to help drain it. Once drained, I pour it all into my ice chest. I stir it around to locate my veggie bags and then open them to release the garlic and corn on the cob. Once the veggies are out, I stir the entire cooked batch around a bit to mix the flavors, etc and then close the ice chest to keep everything warm while I finish the next step.
How much Sausage?
People often ask me how much sausage to prepare for their crawfish cookout, and there is no tried and tested rule, you just BBQ as much sauage as you think the people sharing your cajun crawfish boil will eat. So....that aside, let's get back to the rest of this....The cooking basket is now empty and I add the cooked Andouille sausage (sliced or whole) to the basket and set it back in my still very hot water for about 10 minutes, to allow the sausage to warm. Once warm, I add the crawfish and all my fixin's back in to the pot, from my big old ice chest and stir it all around just for a couple minutes just for flavoring.
Preparing the table to eat
A round table, a picnic table, a long serving table or whatever will work. Just as long is there is enough room for everyone to get a seat for the feed. First, skip the fancy tablecloth, cover the table with newspaper or butcher paper or even those disposable gingham style table cloths available at the store. But really, just use whatever is handy, The crawfish have cooled enough to handle and everything is ready so it's time to pour it all on my table to get ready to eat.
A crawfish with a straight tail
Before everyone sits down and gets started, I grab a bowl and I quickly go through the cooked crawfish one last time to check for any crawfish that were dead prior to cooking. (don't worry, It's fairly easy to accidentally miss a few in the purging and rinsing process) They are easy to identify once cooked though, as live crawfish have a curved tail when cooked, but a straight one means it was dead before cooking and will taste lousy so NEVER eat one. Just grab 'em and toss 'em in your bowl to dispose of them. ( remember, a 5-8 or even a 10% loss ratio is normal)
Peeling and eating Crawfish
This is the best part, just grab the crawfish with the head in one hand and the tail in the other. Twist lightly and kinda wiggle it and it will break off the tail.
(there is a natural spot you'll see, on the crawfish where this happens)
Once the tail is in hand, set the head aside. Now pinch the shell all over to kinda crack it so the meat will come out easily. With the other hand, pull back the flap of skin on top and de-vein. Now, just pinch the meat slightly and pull, the tail comes right out whole, sweet and juicy. Now for the head, pick it up, slide your finger inside and squeeze the juice up to the top edge of the shell using your finger tip and fingernail. Then put it close to your mouth and just suck it up. That's how to eat a crawfish.
Usually, there aren't any leftovers, but if there are? Peel and remove tails, placing the peeled crawfish in Ziploc bags and refrigerate. They can be added to salads etc. There are tons of recipes, just 'Google' the word, 'Crawfish recipes', and there are hundreds to choose from. Any leftover potatoes can be used to make....(yep....you guessed it).....potato salad. When you've finished eating and packing any leftover's? (there are never any at my house) Clean up is easy, just roll up the paper or disposable table cloth and toss. No dishes to clean and just one pot to scrub.
Thanks for reading my Best Cajun Crab Boil today. Stay safe and I'll see you on the trail--CampingmanNW