Crawfish boils kick off spring each year in Louisiana. The season generally starts in mid January (you have to remember that it’s usually much warmer in southern Louisiana than other parts of the U.S.) and runs through early July. The peak for the crop is March through May. It’s my favorite time of year for food.
What is a crawfish boil, exactly?
Well, in New England and the mid-Atlantic, they have crab boils. In other parts of the U.S., there are shrimp boils (I actually went to a shrimp boil here in Nashville last year). In Louisiana, and anywhere Louisianians tend to congregate, there are crawfish boils!
Crawfish are small fresh water crustaceans that look like miniature lobsters when boiled and are similar in size to a shrimp (usually a little smaller). With over 30 different species found in Louisiana, only two are commercially important: the red swamp crawfish and the white river crawfish.
The secret to a good boil is the seasoning! You want those crawdads nice and spicy! It’s a bit of an art form to get the boil just right, requiring years and years of experience and practice. My brother make a pretty good boil.
The fixins that get thrown in to boil with the crawfish usually include corn on the cob, red potatoes, and sausage. There are often also lemons, garlic and onions involved (many folks like to pop whole garlic cloves in their mouths). Occasionally peanuts, artichokes and peppers are boiled too.
Louisianians love their crawfish so much that they will do just about anything to get to the tasty little mudbugs each spring. Case in point, my cousin and his wife live in Japan. Each year, he becomes intently focused on returning to Baton Rouge for crawfish season. He’s making it happen this year and coming home for a few weeks in April.
I spent eight years living in Washington DC, but luckily, there was a very large Louisiana expat contingency there. Every year, I was able to attend not one, but two massive crawfish boils hosted by the Louisiana State Society and the LSU Alumni Club respectively.
Of course, any time I visited my hometown of Baton Rouge in the spring, I would run over to Heads and Tails down the street or Tony’s Seafood on the way in from the airport and pick up 20 pounds or so.
Now that we’re pretty settled in Nashville, I’ve set out to find my crawfish fix. You can imagine my surprise and delight to discover the Rajun Cajun boil here in Nashville on April 12. With 3,000 pounds of crawfish, beer and a great lineup of local Nashville bands, how could I miss it? All you can eat, all day, for $45 (plus excellent entertainment in the great outdoors by the Nashville Riverfront)- AND the proceeds to go charity? Done! I’m actually volunteering for a couple of hours, so I get in for free 😉
How to eat a crawfish
To really enjoy crawfish, you need to master the peel. The goal is to get to the meat in the tail as quickly and efficiently as possible. Most Louisiana folks like to also “suck the heads” as a lot of the boil juice accumulates there. Slurping sounds are excused and even encouraged. It’s hard to explain the process without physically showing the method, but I employ a pretty simple one that I will attempt to share. I also found this 27 second video on Youtube that illustrates the easy peel.
First, separate the tail and the head by squeezing the sides of the head with your left hand and pinching the start of the meaty tail with your right hand and pulling them apart (or I suppose you’d switch hands if you’re a lefty). Squeeze the sides of the head as you suck the juices out (optional) and discard the head. Pinch and peel (remove) the first two rings of the tail shell. This exposes the largest part of the tail meat. Gently grab ahold of the exposed meet with your fingers while pinching the bottom of the tail with your other hand. As you pinch the bottom of the tail (near the little fin), pull the meat, and voila! An exposed crawfish tail! Pop it in your mouth and repeat. These tasty critters go quickly at a table full of famished southerners, so you really have to get after it if you want to fill your belly!