How to Throw a Crawfish Boil

Louisiana Chef John Besh has the lowdown

Jul 5, 2016
Outside
Outside Magazine
crawfish

A crawfish boil is as much of a party as it is a meal.    Photo: Todd Crusham

Crawfish aren’t much to look at. Shells like burnt rust, more claw than meat, big eyes, lots of legs—it’s hard to imagine someone long ago finding one of these creatures beneath a rock in a creek and thinking, “we should eat that.” Thank god they did. The crawfish might seem humble, but throw a bunch of them in a boiling pot with veggies and a mess of seasoning, and that “mudbug” is transformed into a delicacy that has helped defined a piece of the American South.

“Crawfish are intrinsically linked to our culture,” says Chef John Besh, a James Beard Award-winning chef, cookbook author, and the man behind an empire of restaurants in Louisiana. “When I was a child, I assumed every person on earth ate crawfish on Friday.”

The crawfish boil, which has become a warm-weather tradition in the South, is as much of a party as it is a meal. And if you’re going to do it, you should do it right—Chef Besh had plenty of thoughts on how.

Source the Mudbugs

“The best crawfish are wild crawfish found across South Louisiana, with the bulk of them being produced agriculturally in conjunction with rice farming. Bigger is not always better; sometimes the smaller crawfish with the softer shells will have the sweeter flavor.”

(Don’t fret if you’re hundreds of miles from the nearest bayou: they’re available over the Internet.)

The Gear

“The main thing you need is a big pot, ideally with a perforated insert, and an outdoor propane burner. You can always boil the crawfish inside, but then you’re left with the smell of the crawfish and spices.”

The Process

“You can’t over season a crawfish. Taste your boiling water before you put the crawfish in—it needs to be salty, spicy, perfumed with whole heads of garlic, lemon, celery and onions. On top of that, add your favorite smoked sausage, mushrooms, potatoe,s and corn — asparagus, brussels sprouts, and artichokes are even encouraged. I place the crawfish into boiling water, which lowers the temperature. Once it comes back to a boil, turn it off and let them soak for no less than 15 minutes.”

The Party

“The traditional way to serve a crawfish boil is simple: you pour them out over newspaper spread on a picnic table.”

The Pairing

“Any light pilsner-style beer works. You want something cold and crisp that works best with spices. A beer that’s too big and too heavy not only fills you up, but it doesn’t complement the spicy nature of crawfish.”

The Leftovers

“Whatever is left over from the crawfish boil must be saved (potatoes, onions, celery) and turned into the spiciest potato salad you’ve ever had. Here’s a recipe from my latest book.

Crawfish Boil Potato Salad

Serves six.

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds boiled potatoes, cut in half
  • 1/2 onions, small diced
  • 1 stalk celery, small diced
  • 2 green onion, small diced
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons Zatarain’s Creole Mustard
  • 1 teaspoon Zatarain’s liquid crab boil
  • Salt to taste

Preparation:

  1. Quarter the reserved boiled potatoes from the crawfish boil and place into a large mixing bowl.
  2. Squeeze the reserved garlic from its shell into the bowl.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients and season with salt. 

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