Crawfish Feast

Host a Cajun-style crawfish boil that will leave your guests ready to boogie down in the bayou.


Enlarge Image A tasty crawfish boil is a family- friendly affair -- just crack, eat, and clean up with a paper towel.

It starts with a good supply of crawfish, spicy Louisiana-style music, and a beautiful spring afternoon. Set up your backyard for a party and invite a large group of fun-loving friends with a taste for spicy cuisine, and you're ready to have a crawfish boil.

If you live in Louisiana, you've no doubt already been to or heard of these informal backyard gatherings. But if you don't live in Cajun country, you'll find it a tradition well worth exporting. Ask natives what they like about these boils and they invariably mention the casual atmosphere.

The unrushed atmosphere that's a necessary part of a crawfish boil seems to relax people. As guests peel and eat the crawfish, they talk, tell jokes, and catch up with each other. The typical pattern at a boil is to eat, take a break, then return to the table to crack and pull again.

The food's messy nature is also a part of its appeal. Folks elbow up to the table to eat their fill, feasting not only on the tasty crustaceans, but also on other bounty from the pot, including corn on the cob, potatoes, and, in recent years, artichokes and garlic.

The following recipes, resources, and checklists will help make your crawfish boil as authentic as a gathering down on the bayou. As they say in Cajun country, Laissez les bons temps rouler! ("Let the good times roll!")

All set to invite your friends over to a boil? Here's what you will need to host a successful crawfish party.

Equipment:
Enlarge Image Bring the water to a boil in a large pot, then add the seasonings and vegetables.
  • Bowls for dipping sauce
  • Cheesecloth for spices (if not using a premixed seafood boil mix)
  • Cups for beverages
  • Galvanized tub or ice chests for drinks
  • Ice chest(s) for icing down live crawfish or a large tub with drainage holes
  • Large pot with lid and basket insert: 10- to 15-gallon pot for 20 pounds of crawfish; 100-quart pot for a 40-pound sack of crawfish
  • Newspapers to cover the table
  • Outdoor propane cooker
  • Outdoor table
  • Plates for serving side dishes and desserts
  • Rolls of paper towels
  • Side table for drinks, side dishes, and desserts
  • Small buckets or lined trash cans for discarded crawfish shells
  • Super-size pie plates for serving crawfish (optional)
Arrange the Table

The traditional crawfish boil is a rustic affair with layers of newspapers spread across an outdoor table, mounds of hot, spicy crawfish piled in the center, and no chairs required. To dress up a crawfish boil for special occasions -- while still holding true to the spirit of the bayous -- try our fun entertaining twists:

Enlarge Image What better welcome to an outdoor party than a platter piled high with food?
  • Set up a patio table and chairs.
  • Lay out newspapers as individual place mats instead of lining an entire table.
  • Make the crawfish the centerpieces of the party by serving them up in super-size pie plates instead of in one mound on the table.
  • Place paper towels on attractive metal holders and set one at each end of the table.
  • Bring out color-coordinated accessories, including pot holders, aprons, dip bowls, and cloth napkins to line breadbaskets.
  • Put several small metal buckets around the table for discarded crawfish shells rather than keeping a big trash can near the table.
  • Include a side table to create another mingling destination. Use this table for pitchers of iced tea or lemonade, side dishes, desserts, and anything else you want to serve.
  • Arrange containers of cold drinks in a galvanized tub filled with ice.
  • Put on Cajun music and kick up your feet.
Twist, Toss, and Taste
Enlarge Image Once you learn how to eat a crawfish, you will unshell the meat in seconds.

Eating a crawfish is easier than it seems. Here's how to peel and savor a cooked crawfish. (As with a lobster, you only eat the tail meat.)

Step 1: Grasp the head with one thumb and forefinger, and the tail section with the other. Twist the tail section while firmly holding the head.

Steps 2 and 3: Discard the head and peel away the top two to three rings of the tail shell. Squeeze the end of the tail while pulling out the tail meat.

Ship Them In
Enlarge Image Crawfish turn fire-engine red once cooked.

Crawfish may not be sold at your grocery store, but you can still host a crawfish boil by mail-ordering them. Follow these ordering rules:

  • A serving is typically 3 to 5 pounds per person. Crawfish cost about $5 per pound. Call three to five days in advance to ensure availability.
  • Crawfish shouldn't be more than a day old when they are mailed, except for live crawfish that were immediately stored in a large tank with recirculating water for 24 to 48 hours to clean them.
  • Door-to-door overnight is the best way to ship crawfish. They should be cooked and served the day they arrive.
  • When the crawfish come, open the shipping box and drain off water. Transfer the sack of crawfish to a large ice chest and open the drain; don't leave them in standing water. Straddle bags of crushed ice over the sack and leave the ice in place until you cook the crawfish, replenishing ice as needed. When it's time to cook them, pour the sack into a large tub and rinse with a hose. Discard any dead crawfish (those with straight rather than curled tails) before cooking.
Enlarge Image Crawfish Boil

Crawfish Boil Here are the basic steps to making the main dish. Be sure to order your crawfish ahead of time, and plan on overnight delivery.

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Crawfish-Boil Seasoning Sure, you can buy seafood-boil seasoning mix, but it's more fun to make your own spicy mixture to fire up your crawfish feast.

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Tangy Dipping Sauce Some people prefer their crawfish straight from the shell; others like it with a dip. Garnish your dipping sauce with a little parsley for color.

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