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It’s crawfish time! This article can serve as a “quick help guide” for your seasonal rite of passage.
It’s a bigger deal than most think. That first crawfish boil of the season, that day that starts it all, the test run usually held during the carnival season — it’s the equivalent of the first football game. It’s opening day in your backyard. It’s the day we try to get our legs under us, assemble our team (you never boil alone) and see if there are any changes to be made. It is a Southern rite of passage for some, as young people across the Gulf Coast stand at fathers’ (and mothers’) sides, hopefully paying attention and learning the art of the boil.
This art — and it is art — like any other is open to interpretation. There are no wrong answers, but there are certainly some answers that are better than others. Brother may turn on brother, sister on sister, over sweet versus heat, powder versus liquid, juice or no juice, butter or where does the addition of fixings cross the line and enter into the ridiculous realm? Art will soothe one soul while aggravating another. That’s what art is good at doing. Well, good art, anyway.
I always bank on having someone new to the area who has never experienced a boil, or maybe never tried a crawfish. That’s a sure-fire way to get an invitation to a party. We love breaking in a newbie! Our Gulf Coast DNA cannot handle even our greatest foe being ignorant of tail-pinching and head-sucking. Undoubtedly it’s the quickest way to organize a soirée. We light the fire under our pots as soon as we hear the tragic news of the uninitiated.
Are you new in town? Is your social life a bore? Trouble meeting a mate? Casually mention you’ve never tried crawfish and your invitation is in the mail. Tell someone in a bar that a buddy from your hometown cooks the best crawfish you ever ate and that person is liable to drag you by the collar to prove, “you ain’t tasted nothin’ yet!”
It’s a funny thing, this crawfish pride. I openly admit to falling for it, and though I never claimed to be the king of boilers, I do a pretty good job. If you are getting into the game, this article can serve as a “quick help guide” for new boilers. Good luck. You’re going to need it with all of the competition out there. You may not see it as a competition, but everyone else does.
Let’s start here. You will need a burner and a really big pot, preferably with a strainer basket. Turkey fryers can do OK but are a little on the small side. I used one for years, making small batch after small batch, but finally graduated to something larger. You’ll need a pot twice as big to be effective. I’d say a 60-quart pot with lid and basket should suit you fine. You don’t want to go too big or it will be tough to handle, and honestly, the more batches you do the better the flavor (arguably). Plan on spending a little over $100.
Burners are another heated (snicker) argument. You don’t have to break the bank, but don’t go on the cheap. In my experience it is best to avoid that crappy burner with the timer safety feature. At some point you will find a way to bypass that safety feature and eventually it will break. Then you will try some kind of backwoods bayou engineering to repair it, and your once safety feature will now be a hazard as you lose a part of your eyebrow and arm hair. My son’s Magic 8 Ball tells me undoubtedly you will do this with a beer in your other hand.
Find them online or at camping/hardware stores ranging from $59 to $100. Your whole rig should easily be less than two bills.
Powder, bag or liquid? If you’re using a commercial crab/crawfish boil, then here is the split in the road. With liquid, you usually have to add a lot of salt. Same goes for the bag, but I love the flavor. At my boils I tend to favor the powder version. Zatarain’s is not the only game in town, but it dominates most of the grocers’ shelves. I’m partial to their Pro Boil, but even the faint of heart could tell you commercial boils need a little doctoring, especially if you like them hot. Cayenne will get you to church on time. Use it sparingly. There may be children present. With powder, bag or liquid, who says you can’t have all three?
Building your boil from the ground up is the true art here. Think about what it smells like when you walk through the first part of the French Market. Garlic powder, cloves, allspice, coriander, thyme — they’re all there with the cayenne and onion powder. Try to replicate that aroma with dried herbs and spices. Grind your unground seeds and peppercorns in a coffee grinder and add them to your water with the powdered spices and salt.
Fruit juices are common these days. I like them, but sometimes prefer a less sweetened taste, although they only provide a hint of sweetness.
Classic fixings are potatoes, onions, lemons, corn and sausage. Imagine the sausage options alone. A true Cajun won’t bat an eye at opening a pack of cheap hot dogs and tossing them in. Cabbage or Brussels sprouts are a hit. Unpeeled garlic finds its way into the mix. Do me a favor: Don’t put peanuts in there. Too many people have allergies. I love spicy boiled peanuts, but wait until the crawfish boil is over and do them separately.
It’s communal. It’s messy. Get a crawfish table if you can. These fit over a trash can to make cleanup a cinch. Buy plenty of paper towels. Beer is the drink of choice. Make sure the water hose is handy, and stainless steel bars are the best way to get rid of smelly hands!
I’m ready for the first boil. Are you? Let’s get the team together and show everyone our masterpiece.