How many of you out there enjoy boiled crawfish but shy away from preparing them at home? The poundage! The timing! The massive boiling pot! The mess! Not to mention finding a good source for live ones. It’s all kind of intimidating, I think. Which is why Glen and I didn’t eat them as often as we wanted to.
We had depended on regular trips to Louisiana to ease the cravings, but haven’t made it there in five or six years now. Yes, we could eat them elsewhere, but it just isn’t the same as sitting in a roadside dive in the Pelican State, zydeco on the jukebox, the steamy funk of boiling crawfish rolling out the kitchen door and over the oilcloth-draped tables (the better to wipe off the cocktail sauce and juicy spatter, my dear).
Then in April of last year, Glen suggested that we buy a batch of live ones and try cooking them ourselves. “How hard can it be?” he said.
“But I don’t know where to buy them,” I said.
“Go to H-E-B.” And not only our local grocery has them, he told me. In fact, for a brief window of time each spring, lots of other places in this part of the world (that is to say, Louisiana-adjacent) sell them too. Unsurprisingly, I’d never noticed this.
“Okay!” I said. I researched the cooking process online and discovered that everyone’s advice was a little different. Many sites assumed no sensible home cook would dream of boiling them in the kitchen, and instructed they be cooked outdoors over a propane burner in quantities large enough to feed six or more people, then eaten at a picnic table. I guess Louisianans are hardier than I am, but here in Central Texas that’s not my idea of a heavenly crawfish experience. As I write this on May 8th it’s 90° outside. Call me a pantywaist, but I prefer to eat steaming hot food indoors with AC, please. But after reading up on it, I put together a plan, noting each step so that, if it was successful, there would be no guesswork when crawfish season came around this year.
It was easy. And the crawfish were so delicious that we’ve cooked them twice already this May.
Before you start, you will need a big pot with an insert. Not commercial kitchen-sized, though. Just big enough to cook 10 lbs. of crawfish in. (That’s the minimum amount we can buy where we shop.) This pot is a Bayou Classic, about 14” tall and 13” across. You can get it from Amazon too.
You’ll also need crawfish seasoning. We use Crawfish Town USA’s, which you can buy right from the restaurant in Henderson, LA, or online here.
You’ll need lemons, too, both for the cooking and for the cocktail sauce (if you’re making your own). To make mine, I use Whataburger Spicy Ketchup, a few dashes of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce, several generous spoonfuls of Atlantic Horseradish, freshly ground black pepper and fresh-squeezed lemon juice. I have no recipe; I learned how to make it by watching my father do it after he’d shucked a mess of Gulf oysters. He added Tabasco too, but with this Whataburger ketchup and a good horseradish, I find I don’t need it.
To drink, Glen and I recommend a good local beer. Two of our favorites to accompany boiled crawfish are Shiner’s Ruby Redbird (a lager), and Real Ale Brewing Co.’s Devil’s Backbone (a Belgian-style Tripel). Wildly different flavor profiles, but each married beautifully with the zingy spice and cocktail sauce sweetness.
And don’t forget to have plenty of newspaper or oilcloth to cover the dining table with. Unless you choose to eat them outdoors. Which means you won’t find this under the dining table five days later:
Once you’re set with all that, you’ll need some lively crawfish (depending on your purveyor, they may have to be ordered a few days in advance of the feast).
BOILED CRAWFISH, AN UN-RECIPE
• Put the crawfish pot insert in the sink and fill it with 10 lbs. live crawfish. Rinse them well in cool water. They should be pre-rinsed when you buy them, but you’ll still need to do this. If they’re filthy, well, it takes longer, and you may need to rinse them in batches. Watch out for those claws.
• Now put the insert with the crawfish into the pot and fill with cool water to comfortably cover the crawfish. This is to make sure the boiling water will cover them once you start cooking them. Then remove the insert and crawfish to rest in the sink again. They like to crawl out, so keep an eye on them.
• Add a halved, juiced lemon to the water in the pot and bring it to a boil. This takes time, so a beer while you wait can be pleasant.
• When the water boils, add about 1 ½ cups of crawfish seasoning, or more to taste, and continue boiling for 10 minutes.
• Now put the insert holding the crawfish into the pot. Bring the water to a reboil and boil for 4 minutes.
• Turn off the heat and add about 4 cups of ice to the pot. Let the crawfish set for 30 minutes in the gradually cooling water to absorb the seasoning.
• Scoop some out and dig in. It’s okay to leave the rest in the pot as you eat.
Any leftover crawfish can be reheated easily the next night:
• Boil a fresh pot of water with another juiced lemon and about 1/3 the amount of crawfish seasoning you used to cook them initially. (Adding fresh seasoning to the water ensures that the flavor won’t be leached from the meat in the reheating process.)
• Boil for 10 minutes, then add the leftover cooked crawfish.
• Leave the heat turned to high for maybe 30 seconds, then turn it off. Do not bring to a reboil. Add about 4 cups of ice to the pot.
• Let the crawfish set in the seasoned water for 20-30 minutes before plating them.
The pot will be very heavy with the water in it, let alone with the additional 10 lbs. of crawfish. Glen does the lifting. But if no one in your house can do this safely, pour the water into the pot once it’s on the stove, via pot filler or pitcher. Use a pitcher or some such to empty the pot once the water has cooled.
A footnote: I was going to title this post “Crawfish: Boil ’Em. Eat ’Em. Suck Their Tiny Heads.” And then I remembered the spam comment disaster that arose from my ice cream blog post of a few months ago. I won’t reproduce that title exactly here for fear of causing another flood of spam, but it included the words “leave,” “’em” and “screaming.” In that order. Little did I know I was opening the floodgates to hundreds of bot-generated spam comments for Viagra and Cialis, which have now given way to hundreds for stop-smoking drugs. Heaven only knows what mayhem “suck their tiny heads” would cause!