In Texas, as in Louisiana, the crustacean of choice for many come spring – or right now due to our unseasonable weather – is the crawfish. If you’re ready to do your own boil, or just want to not embarrass yourself eating someone else’s yummy mudbugs, look no further.
Melissa Faust with Mels’ Seafood can’t put an exact number on the amount of crawfish they’ve served up since they opened last year, but said it’s in the thousands.
Faust said that their suppliers state that crawfish season typically runs from Super Bowl to July 4th, but with the mild winters we’ve had the last couple of years, crawfish have been available starting around the first week of January.
“All of our crawfish comes from Louisiana,” said Faust. “Most of it comes from the many Louisiana crawfish farms in the Lafayette/Lake Charles area but some are caught in the Atchafalaya Basin.”
As for lingo, you don’t crack a crawfish like you would a lobster. You peel it.
“Start by gently pulling the tail away from the head,” said Faust. “Suck the head, if you so choose. I like to pull the yellow fat out of the head with my pinky – so delicious!”
After that, you pull the first “ring” of the shell away from the tail, then lightly pinch the end of the tail and pull the tail meat out of the shell with your teeth.
“It may take a little getting used to but once you get the hang of it, you can peel a lot of crawfish in no time,” she said. “I’m to the point where I just have to separate the head and tail, and just pull the meat out without having to peel anything. The misconception is that it is so much work for such little reward but when you get the hang of it, you can really eat a lot of crawfish in no time.”
Leader readers Stacy Gross and Kelly Reiber warn against eating the crawfish with the straight tails as those with non-curved tails were dead before boiling.
Cooking crawfish requires careful cleaning prior to cooking.
“Crawfish are called Mud Bugs for a reason – they live in the mud so they need to be washed thoroughly several times over until the water you purge them in runs clean,” Faust says. “Some people say to use salt to help them ‘throw up’ to get the grime out of their system. We don’t think this step is necessary. The bigger key is to wash them thoroughly.”
While Faust won’t give away Mels’ secret blend of spices and seasoning, she says that for the do-it-yourself home cook, the crawfish boil seasonings in the grocery store will probably do a pretty good job.
“You could probably ask this question to 100 people [about recipes] and you wouldn’t get the same answer twice,” said Faust. “You really just make it your own and put what you like in the boil. Obviously corn, potatoes and sausage are popular items typically found in the boil. But you can add pretty much any vegetable (onions, garlic, peanuts, mushrooms, artichokes, cauliflower, broccoli), citrus (lemon, oranges) or meats of your choosing.
The Comeaux family of Candlelight Estates are no stranger to a homecooked crawfish boil. Austin Comeaux counsels do-it-yourselfers to work backwards.
“Figure out what time you want to feed guests, and schedule all your prep work and cooking accordingly,” he said. “Don’t keep [crawfish] in a tub of water from your faucet all day long. It can kill them before you’re even ready to cook them.”
The fixings are important to Comeaux – “because sometimes you want to eat something else besides crawfish. Potatoes, corn, sausage, mushrooms – get crazy and try Brussels sprouts, artichokes, whole heads of garlic, pineapple.”
He’s pretty conclusive about spices too.
“For the love of all that is holy, don’t season the outside of the crawfish after you’ve cooked them,” he says. “If you can’t get all the flavor inside during the cooking, you’re doing it wrong.”
And lastly, don’t forget safety: “Always remember that little kids are always very curious. An 80 quart pot of boiling water will stay scalding hot for hours and hours. Find an out-of-the-way area to do your cooking and either dispose of your water or barricade your pot while you eat.”