Boiled Crawfish

A crawfish boil is THE great casual food party in South Louisiana, especially in the Cajun country. It’s also a celebration of springtime, when the crawfish are available in enough numbers and at a low enough price to buy them live by the sack. April and May are the peak of the crawfish season.

It’s brave of me to include a crawfish boil recipe here. Anybody likely to have crawfish available is also likely to have his own special way of boiling them, and will disdain any other. The main reason I boil crawfish is to make crawfish bisque or etouffee later. It is necessary to boil many more than I will need, because we eat the majority of them while peeling them.

The peeling process goes like this. You break the crawfish where the thorax meets the tail. After removing a segment or two of the tail’s carapace, you can squeeze the meat out by applying pressure just above the tail fin. There is also some good crawfish fat inside the head, which you need to suck out–but that is not for beginners.

One more subtlety. It’s traditional to boil potatoes, corn, heads of garlic, and other things in the pot with the crawfish, and eat them as side dishes. It sounds better than it is, because everything winds up tasting the same. I say (knowing full well I am pronouncing heresy) to cook at least the corn separately.

Boiled crawfish.

Boiled crawfish.

  • 20 pounds live crawfish
  • 8 large lemons, quartered
  • 6 yellow onions, quartered
  • 1 bunch celery, with leaves, cut into eighths
  • 1 bunch parsley
  • 4-6 bay leaves
  • 1 bunch green onions, cut up
  • 1 bulb of garlic, cut in half
  • 4 bags crab boil or 1/3 cup liquid crab boil
  • 1 1/2 cups salt
  • 1 Tbs. cayenne
  • 3 lbs. whole new potatoes

1. Fill a bucket or your kitchen sink with two or three gallons of cold water with about a half-cup of salt dissolved in it. Dump the crawfish in; the salted water will purge them. Rinse with two or three changes of water until the water is only slightly dirty. Some cooks say that has no effect on anything, but it seems to me worth doing.

2. Bring a large stockpot with five gallons of water to a boil. Add all the other ingredients except the crawfish and potatoes and return to a boil. Let it cook for fifteen minutes.

3. Add the crawfish and the potatoes. Return to a boil, making sure there’s enough water to completely cover the crawfish.

4. After eight minutes, remove the biggest crawfish you see and open it up to make sure the tail meat is firm and opaque. If not, give it another couple of minutes of boiling, but no more than that. If the crawfish are indeed done, turn off the heat and let the crawfish steep for 20-30 minutes. Remove the potatoes when they’re tender. Take the crawfish out when they’ve absorbed the seasonings to the degree you like.

5. At this point, we commence the peeling and eating process which, if you haven’t learned it, you’re better off picking up the technique from a friend than reading about it. The potatoes are a side dish. Discard everything else. Rinse, freeze, and save the crawfish shells for making bisque or etouffee or sauces.

Serves eight normal eaters or two serious crawfish fanatics.

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