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Crawfish Boil with the Cajuns

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History and Info

The Cajuns became an ethnic group in the case of Roach vs. Dresser Industries in 1980, but Cajun ancestry in the United States goes back to the Nova Scotia area of Canada called Acadia.

The Cajuns settled along the Louisiana shoreline before Louisiana became a state in 1803. Cajuns spoke French originally but soon incorporated English into a language now known as Cajun French. Recent television programs give a little taste of the Cajun accent. These fun-loving people are jokers, dancers, musicians and cooks.

Living off the land kept the Cajuns fed when they first arrived, and it continues to provide favorite meals today. With a supply of seafood and rice, developing recipes with these two main ingredients was just a matter of finding a pot and a flame.

Cookbooks abound to help you learn to cook Cajun food, but there's no better way to learn than living with the Cajuns. Cooking for a large group is an outside project with a propane tank, a burner and a gumbo pot. If you've never been to a crawfish boil, you've missed the flavor of the Louisiana Cajuns. You'll pick up a few naughty jokes, a little Cajun French and meet the neighbors.

The Boil

A good Cajun purchases live crawfish from the dock or maybe from a neighbor. A sack of crawfish is about 35 pounds. It's important to keep these crawly critters alive until you're ready to cook them.

Pay close attention to the vivacity and smell of the crawfish before buying them – too many dead ones will spoil the bag. If they're all trying to pinch you, then it's a good one. Sacks should be mesh, kept wet or damp, and not stacked.

  1. Put the gumbo pot of water on the fire and let it get to a boil while you're working the mudbugs.
  2. Dump the crawfish in a large ice chest or container that has a hole to let the water run out and rinse the crawfish for several minutes.
  3. Close the drain hole and add a box of salt and just enough water to cover the crawfish. Crawfish can drown if they're fully submerged for long periods. They'll also try to escape by climbing, so be mindful.
  4. Let them sit for 10 minutes while your pot of water is getting hot.
  5. Rinse again with the hose before you add them to the boiling water.
  6. Once your water is ready, add Zatarains or Tony Chachere's seasoning, several lemons, a couple of onions, a box or so of salt (depends on how large your pot is, how many crawfish you have, etc.) and some extra cayenne pepper — unless you like your crawfish mild. (Editor's note: You can never add too much cayenne, so don't stint!)
  7. Add the crawfish to the boiling water. Depending on the size of your pot, you may need to split up the crawfish into smaller batches.
  8. Add potatoes and corn on the cob so everything cooks in the same pot.
  9. Once the pot starts boiling again, use a timer for 10 to 13 minutes.
  10. Take the corn out at about 6 minutes and the potatoes out when they're done. Tongs work best for this, unless you're extremely fast.
  11. Turn off the burner at about 13 minutes and let the crawfish sit for 10 minutes while you prepare the table.

Boiling times vary based on the size of the crawfish – you'll know they're done when they're floating and are a fire-engine red.

Don't be afraid to pull one from the boil and give it a taste test – that's the benefit of being the chef! But be careful: the inside of the shell contains boiling juices.

Setting Up

You'll need lots of newspapers and an outdoor table. This is too messy for the house.

Layer the newspapers on the table, then layer some more at each place setting.

Find all the nut crackers and picks in the house and borrow a couple from your neighbors, but only if you've invited them to eat with you. Everyone needs a dishtowel for a napkin. This gets messier when everyone digs in.

Remove the crawfish from the water and dump them in the center of the table. Call the Cajuns to come and eat.

Plastic trays or regular plates work best for this, if you don't want to eat on the newspaper. Despite the temptation, do not use paper plates. Buckets are good to have on hand for the shells.

Non-Cajuns may want to sit elsewhere and eat some potatoes and corn or to peel some crawfish and make a salad or etouffee the next day. You might not have a good appetite with the mess that's about to occur. Then again, if you didn't run when they dropped the live crawfish in the boiling water, maybe you'll hang in there for some good Cajun seafood.

How to Eat Crawfish

Eating crawfish takes some practice. Don't take it to heart if the Cajuns poke fun at you for it.

  1. Wear a newspaper bib or an old shirt. This is a messy process.
  2. Using both hands, break the crawfish at the tail joint.
  3. Snap the head from the tail with a twist.
  4. You'll see a sand vein in the center of the back that runs from head to tail. Discard this on the newspaper.
  5. You can eat crayfish tails without the nutcracker. Tail meat is easy to get out by peeling back the segments of shell until you can get a good grip on the meat.
  6. Cajuns suck the juices out of the head. If you haven't, try this at least once!
  7. Crack the claws carefully with a nut cracker and tug at the clump of meat. The claws have the best meat, but you'll probably have to use the nut cracker and pick to get to it.
  8. Don't mind the mess from eating – discard the shells into another pile on the newspaper or into a bucket.

Editor's note: Some Cajuns like having a small dipping bowl of the crawfish boil (with more cayenne and Chinese black pepper if you can get your hands on some – don't take that literally – for adding a little extra zing to the meat.)

For more information, see Fruge: How to Peel & Eat Crawfish.

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