How to throw a proper Southern crawfish boil
I don’t know when the crawfish bubble began to blow up. I imagine it was maybe around the time the TV show Swamp People became a big deal, or was it the Duck Dynasty guys? I can’t remember. All I know is, I remember being a young teenager and hearing people complain about live crawfish being two dollars a lb., and cooked crawfish being three dollars a lb. I would crawl on coals naked for those prices these days. Crawfish boils were always a thing when I was a kid, but not like they are now. People ate crawfish, but it was much more niche back then. I remember how perplexed I was when I first heard about “sucking heads,” and I was pretty sure I was never going to do it. Crawfish are slowly climbing the ladder in this part of the country. It’s nowhere near as big a deal as college football or debutante balls, but it might be getting there. Tell people you don’t eat crawfish in MS or LA, and they will look at you like you have 3 heads or something. When the sun starts shining and the days get longer… new growth and rebirth and yada yada… My mind always goes to one of our best seasonal delicacies, and I know I’m not alone.
My friends start asking me when we’re gonna boil, really at the beginning of April. They used to ask in March, but by now, they’ve heard my rants about how you’ve got to be rich to afford crawfish in March. The price drops significantly as the season goes on. At some point after college, I decided I would try to do a crawfish boil every year, with an emphasis on “try to,” because I’ve hit a few snags as I journey to becoming the crawfish king that I want to be. You see, my crawfish boils are cursed. It must be some sort of Voodoo magic because I run into a crawfish problem every year. I’ve had a propane connection malfunction. I once had a sack of spoiled crawfish that I was in complete denial about. I just kept pouring on the salt and tasting them all while thinking, “These aren’t my best but they’re okay.” One time, in the process of going to pick up the crawfish, I ran out of gas on the interstate. Another time, I’ve had my wife almost get arrested for drinking beer in the parking lot of the place where we buy the crawfish. My wedding was going to be one big crawfish boil with 200 people, the biggest boil party yet. And then boom, a worldwide pandemic happened. It might have been my fault, I never should have invited that many people to a crawfish boil. The higher the numbers, the more jinxed I become, or at least that’s a theory of mine.
Nowadays I keep an eye out for what could go wrong with my annual boil, and the last few have been pretty successful. It’s not just about sucking heads and pinching tails. It’s about fun and fellowship and family and music and outbursts of pure joy. There is something about the sunshine and the smell of that crab boil, the beer buzz on a Sunday afternoon while music is playing, that relieves me of some of my personal anxiety. The pandemic taught us not to take certain things for granted, but we didn’t have to learn that lesson with crawfish, because crawfish have always been placed on a culinary pedestal in our hearts. I still don’t feel like the Crawfish King, more like the crawfish jester. But cheers to the crawfish! Cheers to good health! Cheers to ending the curse! There is nothing like this time of year, and there is nothing like this delicacy. God has allowed us to participate, and we are so thankful just to be a part of it. We hope all of you get to enjoy a good boil this year. Lord knows we deserve it, and just remember to wash your hands before you touch your face. Watch out for the curse, and count them blessings. Laissez les bon temps roulez, y’all!
Everyone who boils does it in their own particular way, and the strategies are abundant, but here is my recipe.
20 gallon Pot with Strainer Basket
Large Bucket that Strainer Basket can fit into
Crawfish Paddle or small boat paddle
15 lbs of crawfish
Small bag of small red potatoes
Sausage links cut into 3 inch long sections, 6 to 8 pieces
Corn on the cob, 6 to 8 pieces
Package of white mushrooms
5 Lemons cut in half
5 Onions cut in half
5 Garlic pods cut crosswise
1 1/2 cups of salt
1lb of butter
4 1/2 lb container of Zatarains dry Crab boil.
1. Fill your pot about half way full with water and bring to a boil. As it boils, add the salt, garlic, onions, lemons, garlic, and about half the container of the Crab boil. Let that simmer for about 20 minutes.
2. While that is simmering, you will want to wash your crawfish really well. Put the crawfish in your strainer basket and fill your bucket up with water. Put the basket in the water bucket and really give it a couple of good spins and lift it up and down like you are churning butter. You really want to slosh them around and get all the mud and guck off of them. Think of it like how a washing machine washes clothes. Your water will get pretty muddy, and you will want to repeat the process several times. Pay attention to the water, and once you are starting to get pretty clear water, do it a couple more times after that for good measure. It’s usually about 5 or 6 times.
3. Now go back to your simmering water, bring it to a boil and lower your crawfish into the water with the potatoes and the butter. Give it a good stir from time to time and just watch it boil. They usually don’t take long to cook, usually about 5 to 7 minutes. In the middle of this boil process is when I will add the shrooms, corn, and sausage. You will know they are done cooking when they turn bright red.
4. Once they are red, turn the burner off, put the lid on the pot, and let them soak for about 20 to 30 minutes. After that, go ahead and give it a taste test. You might need them to soak a little longer or stir in a little more salt. If they soak longer than 30 minutes, it won’t hurt to scoop a big scoop of ice into your pot so they don’t overcook. After that, they should be ready to eat…Enjoy!
Ann Elizabeth and George Gillespie are private chefs and owners of Supper Club Chef Service. Visit supperclubchefservice.com for more information or follow them on instagram @supperclubchefs.