It seems every part of the country has its own unique type of seafood extravaganza, whether it’s a Low Country boil in Charleston, a clambake in Maine, or a crawfish boil down in New Orleans. I’ve been to quite a few in my day, but this year it was high time I hosted my own.
Crawfish season, which usually runs from late April through June and sometimes into July, just so happened to coincide with my boyfriend’s birthday. As if I needed another excuse to celebrate!
Usually when I entertain at home, I have a slight tendency to micromanage. Fortunately, I had a lot on my plate the week of the party, so I decided this crawfish boil would have to be a more “hands-on” affair. I delegated out tasks to the unsuspecting guests, including which dishes to make and what beer to bring. With appetizers, sides and desserts taken care of, I could focus on the main event: the crawfish!
The most difficult part of planning was tracking down the live crawfish. I ordered 35 pounds through a reputable local restaurant for a Saturday delivery. I figured I could (hopefully) keep the little guys alive for at least 24 hours. Around 4 p.m. I got a call saying they didn’t arrive as expected. So much for that idea. I tried not to panic and drove across town to a bustling seafood market, where I was in luck: I purchased 35 pounds of crawfish for half the cost that I would have paid at the restaurant. Score!
By the time the guests started to arrive, things seemed to be moving along smoothly. Tip: Have all of your equipment checked and ready to go before the party starts. No one needs to be scrambling for a full propane tank on a Sunday afternoon. Not that I learned this from experience or anything.
And when someone asks if they can help, say yes. I had the girls chopping all the vegetables, while the boys were in the backyard purging the crawfish. Once the crawfish were ready to be cooked, I had everyone active in the process. From how much seafood boil to put in the water, to how long the potatoes should cook, everyone got to add their input (and trust me, everyone had an opinion).
In the end, we got about four or five batches of cooked crawfish out of the 35 pounds. The crawfish eating lasted late into the evening until everyone had their fill. And just when I thought I needed to start cleaning, I was handed a huge bag of peeled crawfish just waiting to go into the freezer. All that was left was to toss out the dirty newspapers and hit the hay. Turns out even cleanup can be a group effort. Who knew?
At the end of the day, it was my most successful party to date. Do I want to do it again? Absolutely. But I think I’ll wait until next year.
Crawfish Boil Recipe
Prep time: 1 hour
Total time: 2-5 hours
Serves: 25-30 people
Purchase 2-3 pounds of crawfish per person. This is what I averaged for a party of 25-30 people, accounting for the fact that we would have appetizers, sides and desserts, in addition to the corn, sausage and potatoes. We had a good bit of leftovers, but the crawfish all got peeled and frozen to use in a batch of etouffée.
- Large aluminum stockpot with strainer
- Single propane burner
- Large cooler with spigot
- Large aluminum tub (or baby pool)
- Large paddle or stick, to stir
- Thick rubber gloves
- Disposable plastic tarp
- Paper towels
- Large trash can
- 1 (35 pound) pound bag live crawfish
- 1 (3 pound) box salt
- 4 (3 ounce) boxes seafood boil (we used Zatarain’s Extra Spicy)
- 1 pound sausages, such as andouille, cut into 3-inch lengths
- 8 ears corn, cut into 3-inch lengths
- 5 pounds new potatoes, cut into quarters
- Cocktail sauce, optional
- Hot sauce, optional
- Melted butter, optional
Once you are ready to cook, you need to “purge” the live crawfish of mud and dirt. Put the crawfish in a large tub or baby pool and fill with cool water and 1/2 the box of salt. Once the water becomes muddy, drain and repeat the process until the water remains fairly clear. Do not allow the crawfish to just sit in the water, as this could kill them. Repeat at least 3 times if not more, although you don’t have to keep using salt. (The cleaner the water, the cleaner your crawfish are on the inside. And that’s a good thing.)
Pick through and discard any crawfish that haven’t survived the journey. I recommend using thick rubber gloves because the ones that are alive are going to be ready to pinch. Be careful not to put any dead crawfish in the cooking pot.
Cover a large table with a disposable plastic tarp and line with newspapers. Set out rolls of paper towels. Have a large trashcan with thick liner nearby for shells.
Fill water about halfway up a large steel stockpot with a strainer insert. Add seafood boil and bring to a boil for a few minutes to get the spices going. Working in batches, add some potatoes and cook until just barely tender, approximately 10 minutes. Add sausage and cook for about 5 minutes. Finally add the corn and cook about 5 more minutes.
The crawfish should go in last. These should only cook for about 2 – 3 minutes, and no longer than 5. As soon as the first crawfish floats, remove the strainer from the water, allowing excess water to drain back into the pot. Dump crawfish and vegetables onto the table. Season with kosher salt and pepper and serve with hot sauce, cocktail sauce, and melted butter, if desired.
Repeat in batches. Each batch of crawfish will be spicier as the water boils down. If you lose much water, add another bag of crawfish boil and more water.
To eat, grab the crawfish between the head and tail, pinch and twist. The body and tail should separate. Suck the juices from the head. Peel away a section or two of the shell from the top of the crawfish. Pinch the crawfish at the base of the tail. This will loosen the crawfish from the shell. Pull out the meat and enjoy. Any leftover crawfish should be peeled immediately and frozen for another use.
To clean up, pull up plastic tarp with remaining shells and dispose of immediately, double-bagging if necessary.
Cook’s Note: If you are not using your live crawfish immediately, special care must be taken to keep them healthy. Store them in their mesh bag, in a cool, dark place (like a garage) and out of reach of sneaky animals. I kept them in a big cooler over a bag of ice with the spigot open so the melted water could drain out. They need oxygen, so keep the lid propped for air. They can be kept alive like this for up to 48 hours, but the sooner you use them the better.
More Southern Eats From Nealey
Nealey moved from Alabama to the West Coast to follow her dreams, only to realize once there how much she missed good ol’ country cooking. So she took to the kitchen and began re-creating the dishes of her past, but this time without any help from a can. What started out as a hobby turned into an obsession, so she quit her day job to pursue cooking, and eating, fulltime. Dixie Caviar is where you can follow her pursuits of all things Southern.