Cooking and eating crawfish is a Cajun’s delight, so with that said, it’s my pleasure to share with you our family’s methodology on how to boil crawfish. I include some helpful tips along with a short video on how to peel those tasty tails. There’s also a story of my favorite childhood memory of crawfishing in the rice fields behind our house. So, allons’! (That means let’s go!)
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Crawfish season begins in November, continuing through June in the fresh waters of southern Louisiana. Now, there are many ways we Cajuns like to devour that fruit from the bayou country, but I agree with my mama who says a Crawfish Etouffée and boiled crawfish are the best ways to eat them. So true, but catching and boiling is the most entertaining way of all. Here’s a good example.
Crawfishing In The rice Fields
It was a day in late summer when daddy flew open the back door of our little green house and hollered out to mama, “Grab the kids and some buckets. The rice fields are full of crawfish.” They called our cousins who lived a few houses down the gravel road to join us, and the hunt was on!
It was a sight to see! The rice grew tall in those days, and I can still remember walking through the rows of rice stalks with their full heads bending above my head. Daddy was right. Those red mudbugs were crawling around in the mud and water between the ripening rice everywhere we looked. Our buckets couldn’t hold them all, so we chose the larger ones and left the rest. It was like a Jubilee, and it was so much fun!
After we picked to our heart’s content, we loaded ourselves with our full buckets into the back of daddy’s pickup truck and headed down the levee back to our little green house. Mama and Daddy cooked the fresh harvest in a large boiling pot and we ate until our lips were burning with cayenne pepper and our bellies were full. It was a joyful time!
Everyone shared their own story of crawfishing that day. Mama asked if we had seen any snakes. Thank God I didn’t! With all the excitement, I didn’t even think of that. She said she saw one eating crawfish and told that snake she could go ahead and have all she wanted and went the opposite way.
The Tradition Continues
This is a memory I wish I could experience again. But oh, how things have changed! We’re seeing more and more rice fields being replaced with sugar cane fields. Also, because of the increase in demand for crawfish, farmers have developed ponds suitable for growing and fishing in those same rice fields.
But the benefit is that people are becoming more aware of our Cajun culture through the vehicle of food. This is a blessing in helping to preserve the good things of our heritage, like gathering your family together for a crawfish boil in the backyard.
I’m happy to say that my children enjoy that tradition today as much as I do, but I can still out-peel them all. With the help of some other family members and their own experiences, my two sons have gotten their crawfish cooking skills down pat. Those skills are broken down into steps as easy as ABC that are essential to a rewarding outcome. I hope you find them helpful and have an opportunity to give them a try.
These steps will show you how to:
keep the crawfish fresh and alive
clean them with a purge
cook them in a proper cooker (a simple large pot will do)
season them up
add vegetables and sausages and such
boil and soak them in the right amount of time
get an easier peel
He lost the stare-down. The crawfish never blinked.
The easy ABCs to remember:
A Always buy the freshest.
It’s important to get live crawfish as local and as fresh as possible. I now live in southeast Arkansas, which is close enough to the Louisiana border to pick up a sck or two ourselves or have them trucked in the same day they’re harvested. However, we are seeing a few crawfish ponds popping up in the Arkansas Delta area. That’s exciting!
For those of you who are too far away to easily get a fresh delivery, I feel your pain! Some companies do ship live crawfish to just about anywhere. It comes with a higher price, but it may be a worthwhile splurge!
After you get your crawfish, they need to be kept in their netted sack in refrigeration or on ice. We usually buy 2 thirty-pound sacks at a time, transporting them in a large ice chest (about 60 quarts) with the bottom lined with bricks and the lid closed. The bricks keep the crawfish elevated enough, so they don’t drown in the melted ice water. It takes about 6 regular size ice bags for this large ice chest with the 2 full sacks in it. Also, make sure la écrevisse are wet before they are placed in the chest, spraying them with fresh water, and the chest’s drain is closed.
As soon as I get home, the chest is unloaded from my vehicle and placed outside in a shaded area. Then, with the drain valve opened, we elevated the chest with a brick under it on the opposite side of the valve. This keeps the melted ice flowing out and away from the live crawfish. As the ice melts, we add more to keep them cold.
Preserving them this way is important because you don’t want to boil dead crawfish. That would not be good! And you don’t want to waste any either. I have successfully kept them stored on ice for up to 2 days with little to no waste.
By the way, you can estimate 3 to 5 pounds per serving. Except, we Cajuns count on 5 pounds per person . . . at least. Yes, we do! Plus, the peeled leftovers are good in most recipes like Chunky Cheesy Creamy Crawfish Dip or Crawfish Nachos. Remember, you may need to adjust the seasoning a little.
B Before you cook, purge.
It’s time to clean the crustaceans.
Take them out of refrigeration or ice chest and allow them to warm up to room temperature while still in the sack. You will see them begin to move. This takes about an hour and a half, depending on how warm it is outside. Then, empty one bag of crawfish into a large ice chest, give them a good rinse of fresh water, removing any dead crawfish, grass, or debris, and drain.
Some prefer to purge with pure water, and others believe salt is needed to get the best results. I prefer the salt method to be on the safe side. Although I have eaten those purged with fresh water only, they were very clean tasting, but they were clean and fresh-looking to begin with.
Clear Water Method
All you do for this method is repeatedly rinse the crawfish, adding water to the ice chest, then stirring them around and draining until the water flows clear.
Salt Water Method
To purge using salt, fill the chest with water a few inches above the crawfish. Sprinkle half of a 26-ounce box of regular salt over the water, then stir the crawfish with a large paddle to mix well. Let them sit for about 5 to 10 minutes. This cleans them inside and out, causing them to excrete anything in the digestive tract. It also cleans the outside of the shell. Keep flushing and rinsing with fresh water until the water looks clean.
NOTE: Protect animals, grass, shrubs, trees, and/or flowers by draining the salt water far away from them.
C Cook the vegetables first, then the crawfish in the seasoned, boiling water.
Whether you are using a crawfish cooker or a big boiling pot on the stove or outside burner, the cooking process of “how to boil crawfish” is the same.
We recently purchased this gas cooker that boils up to one sack at a time. It’s so nifty! There’s a fill line to mark the water, so all we have to do is fill it up with fresh water and turn it on. It also makes draining and dumping an easy task.
Of course, you don’t need a big cooker like this one. All you need is a large pot half-filled with water and seasonings to set on your stove or on an outside burner. As far as how much water to use, a good rule of thumb is 2 gallons of water for every 10 pounds of crawfish.
You Can Use Your Own Seasoning Blend Way before pre-packaged crawfish boil seasonings became popular, we used our own simple seasonings of salt and pepper. The ingredients for 30 pounds of crawfish are 2.5 – 3 twenty-six-ounce boxes of salt and an 8-ounce bottle of cayenne pepper plus one stick of butter. After boiling the crawfish for 15 minutes, give them a 3-minute soak. Then add 1 more box of salt and a few more ounces of pepper plus 1 more stick of butter, give them a good stir and serve. That’s how I remember eating them as a child—it’s the classic taste of Cajun cooking. By using this method, you get more of the taste of the crawfish and less of the seasoning blend. YUM!
Time To Cook
When the water and seasoning have come to a full rolling boil, it’s time to cook. Boil the vegetables first to ensure the potatoes and the rest of the vegetables are cooked long enough. Our family’s favorite add-ins are potatoes, corn on the cob, mushrooms, onions, lemon halves, and small link sausages. The lemons are for added flavor, not eating.
Note: Cut onions in half and wrap them in foil to keep them from falling apart.
This cooker makes it easy to drain and dump the boiled food into an ice chest before eating. Bring the water back to a full boil then it’s time to add the crawfish and a stick of butter. The butter helps them peel easier.
Let them cook for 5 minutes for small to medium-sized ones, or 8 minutes if they are large. Then turn off the heat and dump a bag of ice into the boiled crawfish. Or, give them a spray of fresh, cool water from the water hose. Add enough to replace the amount of water that evaporated during the boil. Allow the crawfish to soak in the seasoned water until they sink to the bottom. The idea here is to cool them slightly and push water into the shell for a juicier bite. It seems to work because we get luscious easy-to-peel tails every time!
Now it’s time to drain and dump them into an ice chest, close the lid, and let them sit for about 15 minutes. This will cause them to soak up even more seasoning before serving.
We like serving ourselves straight from the ice chest which keeps them hot. Some prefer dumping them out on a table lined with newspaper or plastic.
They can also be eaten with saltine crackers and a dip made with one part mayonnaise and one part ketchup. The dip is for the crackers and the crawfish tails. This is how my children like it.
Here’s a short video tutorial showing one method of how to peel a crawfish tail after you twist it from the head:
This is only one way you can approach the peel. I know it can be a struggle if you’re new to eating boiled crawfish, but don’t give up. Let your hunger push you to learn your own peeling technique. As a child, the way I learned is by taking the tail-end off first, then pinching the back of the tail in half to crack it making it easy to pull the rest of the shell away. Many times the unwanted black line will come out when the tail is removed.
I’ve seen it done in different ways. Some even take a bite right into the shell while holding the tail-end with their fingers and they manage to pull the meat out between their teeth. It’s not for me, but whatever works for ya’!
You can also suck the heads or use your finger to retrieve the insides for the fat and more of the spicy juice flavor. Not for me, either!
1. Fill a 60-quart pot halfway with fresh water or a crawfish cooker with fresh water to the fill line.
2. Add the seasoning to the water and turn on the heat bringing the water to a full boil.
3. Add lemons and vegetables and cook until vegetables are done, then drain them from the pot and set them aside in an ice chest to keep warm.
5. Add crawfish with butter and cook for 5 minutes for smaller and 8 minutes for larger ones.
6. Turn off the heat, then spray the crawfish with fresh water from the water hose, enough to replace the water that evaporated while cooking, or add a bag of ice, then wait until the crawfish sink to the bottom of the pot or cooker.
7. Drain and place the boiled crawfish in an ice chest, close and let sit for 15 minutes before serving, if you can wait.
Letting them sit in the ice chest before serving helps them absorb more of the seasoning.
You can add any of your favorite vegetables to the boil.
Adding the ice or the fresh water helps cool the boiled crawfish slightly and push water into the shell for a juicier bite.
Serve with saltine crackers and a dip made of 1 part mayonnaise and 1 part ketchup.
Keywords: how to boil crawfish, boiled crawfish
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“A little faith will bring your soul to heaven; a great faith will bring heaven to your soul.” ― Charles Spurgeon