Since we are in the throes of crawfish season (which lasts from January to June), I decided to do this post. Crawfish (or crayfish or crawdaddy, as they’re known in other parts of the country) are little shellfish that resemble tiny lobsters. Here in the dirty South, we call them crawfish. They are little “mudbugs” that live in the swamps, and yes, while this sounds disgusting, they are actually delicious when cooked Cajun-style.
First, let’s define Cajun cuisine. Often, it’s confused with Creole cuisine, but there is, in fact, a difference per se. The Creoles were wealthy planters who settled in southern Louisiana with their European chefs, thus it is a food of aristocracy. Using Old World techniques on indigenous ingredients, Creole cuisine was born. Bouillabaisse, native to Provence, gave way to gumbo; the Spanish paella was the basis for jambalaya; and so on.
The Cajuns, on the other hand, descended from the Acadian refugees. They were less aristocratic and more agrarian; they cooked simple “one pot” dishes for mere sustenance. Cajun food is usually characterized by such ingredients as wild game, seafoods, wild vegetables and herbs. Ingredients from nearby swamps, woods, and bayous are typical things found in the Cajun black iron pot.
Today, many Creole and Cajun foods have blended into a melting pot, if you will, of southern Louisiana. One things’ for sure, though: it’s an American cuisine from the South like no other.
A crawfish boil is an event native to Louisiana but over the years has spread to most of the deep South (like my native Houston), and now, it can even be found in California, Colorado, and D.C. But because I’m a Southern girl, I don’t trust eatin’ crawfish nowhere but down he’e. What’s unique and fun about a crawfish boil is the atmosphere. Not only are you grubbin’ on good food, but you do it outside on a picnic table covered with newspaper or butcher paper. You do it over beer. You do it with your bare hands. (Or if you’re prissy like me, with plastic or latex gloves.) Most importantly, you do it with good company–it is NOT to be eaten alone. The crawfish and all the fixin’s are poured straight from the pot onto the middle of the table, and everyone grabs from the steaming pile of awesome goodness.
This recipe is based on one I got from a former coworker who has French roots from southern Louisiana. Whether she’s Creole or Cajun, I have yet to determine, but either way, this recipe is pretty tasty. She and her family do a crawfish boil every year for about a hundred friends and family. I, of course, scaled down the servings and tweaked it a little, but remember that you need to do this with a group. Also, it’s like a half day affair, so make sure you have lots of energy. I haven’t held a crawfish boil myself since 2008 because the purging, cooking, and especially the cleaning up have been too much for this tired soul. But when the best restaurants around town sell crawfish for $7+ per pound, a little DIY is something to consider.
Recipe: Cajun Crawfish Boil
Summary: From the Melancons of southern Louisiana
- 30-40 lbs. live crawfish
- 3 lemons, halved
- 2.5 tbsp. cayenne pepper
- 6 med. onions, halved
- 9 unpeeled garlic heads
- 1.5 tbsp. minced garlic
- 2.5 tbsp. Louisiana brand hot sauce
- 1/2 to 1 lg. pkg. Louisiana brand crab/seafood boil powder
- 12 oz. cans pineapple slices
- 10 med. red potatoes
- 1 lg. pkg. button mushrooms
- 2 lbs. sausage links
- 30 sm. frozen corn on the cob
- 1/2 canister of salt
- Crawfish must be purged before cooking to rid the shellfish of dirt and impurities: an hour before cooking, dump live crawfish into a lg. bin and rinse with water. Dump water and repeat. Refill bin with enough water to cover crawfish. Add half the salt canister and stir.
- Fill the pot’s basket with crawfish. Place the basket inside the pot and fill pot with water to cover crawfish. Remove basket and note the water level. Dump water and refill pot to the noted water level.
- Heat water to rolling boil. Add Louisiana powder, squeezed lemons plus their rinds, minced garlic, hot sauce, cayenne pepper, and pineapple slices plus juice.
- Dump crawfish into bin. Rinse 2 more times.
- Dump crawfish, potatoes, onion halves, and garlic heads into basket. Hose down.
- When water reaches rolling boil, carefully lower basket into pot. Bring back to rolling boil, and then time for 4 min.
- After 4 min., turn off fire. Add corn, sausages, and mushrooms. Let stand for at least 20 min. The longer it soaks, the spicier the batch.
Cook the crawfish outdoors using the same pot, basket, and propane burner used for deep-fried turkey.
Many people say the larger the better, but I like medium-sized crawfish best because: (1) they’re easier to peel, and (2) they soak up the spices better.
Use andouille or boudin sausage for an authentic Cajun boil.
Avoid eating the crawfish with straight tails: they went into the pot already dead and could contain harmful bacteria. Stick with the curled tails.
Dipping sauces: I like to eat my crawfish straight up without any dipping sauces as I prefer to taste the essence of the spices. But many people enjoy it with various condiments. The ones I often see are: (1) salt and pepper with fresh lemon juice; (2) mayo mixed with Sriracha (or rooster) hot sauce; and (3) Creole seasoning mixed with fresh lemon juice.
This recipe should serve approx. 10.
The longer the crawfish soak after turning off the fire, the spicier they will be. Soak for a minimum of 20 min.
My favorite crawfish restaurant in Houston is The Boiling Crab. They seem to use a ton of minced garlic on their crawfish, which I may try to emulate next time by upping my minced garlic by ten or something. If you get to this before I do, let me know how it is.
Meal type: dinner
Culinary tradition: USA (Southern)
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