by Eric Wharton
My Recipe Book, constantly being added to
You know you’re in Louisiana when you know what "don’t eat the dead ones" mean.
— Cajun saying
Nothing symbolizes the Cajun culture of Louisiana quite like crawfish, also known as mudbugs because they live in the mud of freshwater bayous. From the very beginning of French settlement in Louisiana, crawfish have been a staple of their diet. Local native tribes taught the Cajuns about crayfish when they first arrived after being forced out of Nova Scotia and surrounding areas by the British in the 1700s.
The French in Nova Scotia were called Acadians. According to legend, after they were exiled and settled in Louisiana, the lobsters yearned for them so much that they set off across the country to find them. The journey took so long and was so arduous that the lobsters began to shrink in size. By the time they found them, whose name had been shorted to Cajuns, they had shrunk until they resembled tiny lobsters.
Locals still hold to the tradition of crawfish boils, where friends and family gather to feast on pounds of crawfish. Cajuns still consider it the only way to properly cook crawfish.
1 20-gallon tank with basket and lid
1 lifting hook
1 propane burner
2 large ice chests with drain plug
1 bag of ice
40-45 pounds of live crawfish
1 bag crawfish boil (approx. 41/2 lbs)
5 lbs red potatoes, cleaned but not peeled
24 ears of corn, shucked and broken in half
2 sticks unsalted butter
1/2 jar Louisiana hot sauce
Rinse the crawfish by placing the bag(s) of crawfish on the ground and hosing them down with water until it runs clear. Open the bag and pour the crawfish into one of the coolers. Continue to rinse the crawfish in the ice chest with the drain plug open—for about 5 minutes.
Place the cooking pot with its basket on the propane burner and fill with 11 gallons of water (about halfway). This should be about the right amount of water to protect against spillage when the potatoes or crawfish are added later. Add the 2 sticks of butter, 5 lbs of potatoes, and the bag of Crawfish Boil into the basket. Cover and bring to a boil. Cook for 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes, add the corn and continue cooking for 15 minutes more. Test potatoes for doneness, continuing to cook if needed. Remove the basket and dump the corn and potatoes into one of the coolers. Close the cooler in order to keep the corn and potatoes warm.
Pour the crawfish into the cooking basket and lower the basket into the pot. Add lemons, peppers, onions, and hot sauce. Bring to a boil and then cook the crawfish for 18 minutes. Turn the heat off and dump the bag of ice over top of the crawfish. Allow the crawfish to soak for an additional 20 minutes.
Remove the crawfish and serve with the potatoes and corn. Traditionally, the crawfish are dumped onto a newspaper covered table as every one digs in, helping themselves to 20 or so crawfish at a time. Additional spice mix can be sprinkled on the crawfish if desired.
For the novice, crawfish is eaten by breaking the tail end off. Hold the crawfish on both sides of the tail joint, thumbs on one side and index fingers on the other. With a twisting motion, snap the head away from the tail. Peel away the shell from the tail. Remove the lower digestive tract along the top of the tail meat, and enjoy.
For diehard crawfish eaters, suck on the end of the head portion to pull out the spices. For the really diehard eaters, don’t bother shucking the tail portion, just suck out the meat, lower digestive tract and all. Yuck!
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