EAT A CRAWFISH!
I double dog dare you to eat a crawfish.
There are many types of seafood available to the American consumer. There are of course fish, which make up a large part of the seafood sold in the United States. Then there are shrimp, crabs, and clams, which make up almost all of the rest. When it comes to total volume, the rest of the options (including lobsters, oysters, mussels, and crawfish, among others) barely move the needle. Crawfish are a regional delicacy along the gulf coast, and rarely make it into a home kitchen anywhere else in the country.
Crawfish are not from the sea. Technically, they would more correctly be called puddle food than seafood. They generally live in flooded rice fields or any still body of water in Lousiana. Most of the ones we eat in the US are farmed for that purpose in ponds throughout the south. They are typically available year round, but the season for good, live crawfish runs from about April through July. They can be ordered online or by phone from many vendors and can be shipped all over the country. For more on this, take a look at our blog about crawfish boils from March 26.
For this challenge, you don’t need to hold a huge crawfish boil, although you certainly would get bonus points for that. You don’t need to fly in 100 lbs of them from Louisiana. You just need to find a plateful to try. They are an interesting food, with no substitute. There really is nothing like a spicy hot boiled crawfish. Look around the area where you live for places advertising boiled crawfish. Outside of the gulf region, some restaurants will make a big deal of having a crawfish boil event. Otherwise, look for restaurants that bill themselves with these key words; Cajun, creole, bayou, New Orleans, Louisiana, or Mardi Gras. Where I live, in California, there are at least 2 options within 15 minutes of my house and they are easy to find with a Google search.
If you really want to get adventurous and try to make some at home, you can do it on a much smaller scale than the Cajuns do. It can be as simple as a big stock pot on the stove with some water, salt, cayenne, and some corn and smoked sausage. If you want the full flavor profile of an authentic crawfish boil, here’s a scaled down version of that recipe that will fit into a 12 qt stock pot in 2 batches. Depending on how high you are willing to fill it and the size of your vegetables, it may take 3 batches and feeds about 4.
10 lbs of Live Crawfish
Crawfish/Crab boil spice mix – This is mostly salt and varies in strength. You’ll have to follow the instructions on the bag for your particular blend.
1 Large Yellow onion – Quartered
1 Whole head of Garlic with just the top cut off
1 lb smoked or Andouille sausage
1 Lemon – quartered
1/3 Cup Vegetable oil
Cayenne pepper to taste – I usually use about 1Tbsp
1 Bottle of light beer
2 ears of sweet white corn – Cut into thirds
1/2 lb of small red potatoes
1 Medium Artichoke – Whole
Start by filling the pot about ½ way with water and then adding the spice mix. Bring to a raging boil and let it go for about 10 minutes to allow all the salt to dissolve. Then add the onions, garlic, sausage, lemons, oil, cayenne, and beer. You’ll have to divide the ingredients up into however many batches you are doing. Boil this for about 20 minutes, then add the potatoes and corn. Boil for another 10 minutes. Add the artichokes and crawfish up to about 2 inches from the top. When it returns to a boil, cook for 7 more minutes and then check them. They should all have turned bright red orange. At that point, turn off the heat and let them soak. This step is important. As the crawfish cool, the water from the pot is drawn into the shells. That’s what gives them all the flavor. They can soak as long as they stay hot, so keep a lid on them and check them after 15 minutes. The longer you wait, the more flavor they’ll have. Start tasting them at 15 minutes and they should be perfect about the time they are cool enough to safely handle. Scoop all the solids out of the water with a big wire basket and get them onto a table. Traditionally, you would cover the table with old newspapers and pour them directly onto the table, letting the water spill onto the ground. You can be a little more careful in your kitchen. Just put them on a big platter or pizza pan. Some people dust them with salt or cayenne on the table. You don’t have to. Serve with Lousiana hot sauce and beer. You can also serve with a big French bread if you like. The bread goes great with all that perfect cayenne and salt-infused garlic.
Whether you cook these at home or go out and find them, crawfish are a memorable and culturally significant meal. You won’t find many other meals in the United States that are based on such a rich heritage or so rooted in tradition.