Cooking at Home: Louisiana Crawfish Boil

Lots of newspaper spread on a picnic or patio table is the way to go

In the three years since we served our first meal at Big Jones, I have learned to work hard to be a resource for people with questions about the traditional foods of the South, particularly about how they can reproduce them at home. Besides pointing people to cookbooks that are useful, a few months ago I realized that this blog was the perfect venue to share this type of information with people who are looking for it. Hopefully, this blog will eventually have a searchable database of simple Southern recipes you can prepare easily at home, given a little motivation and time. This is the Cooking at Home series. The Anatomy of a Dish series will continue to showcase more intricate dishes we make for the restaurant menu.

This spring, I have been asked by a humbling number of folks whether we would be doing a crawfish boil this year or what I knew about how they could have one at home. I promised all who asked to share some resources and tips and now that it is high crawfish season, here’s the lowdown. We haven’t yet had a crawfish boil at the restaurant because – and you should know this before throwing one at home – they are a fantastically messy affair best held outside. The cooking can take place inside if you’re having a fairly small, 10-20 pound boil, but move the eating outside. Now that we have an outdoor patio in our future at 5347 North Clark, there may be a crawfish boil or two in our future, but they’ll be special events and probably not until the next season, so stay in touch via our Facebook Page or Twitter.

Photos in this blog were taken at a crawfish boil we threw for Christa as her going away party last year, when we boiled 40 pounds of crawfish. This recipe will be for 10 pounds, but you can scale it up. A crawfish boil is very easy to pull off, but it takes some planning to get all the parts together, as they are not all available at the corner store.

A little about crawfish – whatever you do, absolutely, positively make sure you are getting American crawfish. Louisiana produces about 90% of the domestic crawfish, with Alabama, Mississippi, and the Carolinas weighing in for a bit of the business. Imported crawfish is never of the same quality, may be mislabeled, and doesn’t employ Americans. Crawfish weren’t considered an important food in South Louisiana until the early 20th century, and in Louisiana crawfish production is symbiotic with the rice industry. Crawfish rose in importance as a food as the rice industry gained a foothold there after the Civil War. Rice is grown over the summer months and harvested in the fall, and crawfish are raised in the same fields over winter and into spring, feasting on the biomass left after the rice harvest, turning it back into soil for the next harvest while fattening themselves up for your pot. The Louisiana crawfish industry is a model of sustainable agriculture. Louisiana is a great place to look for crawfish that is both delicious and sustainable.

In spite of their exotic and slightly intimidating appearance, they're actually harmless and make great playmates. Before you boil them.

We’re going to lay out a few recipes here to constitute a small spread you can lay out for yourself and a few friends. The boil recipe is going to use 10# of crawfish, which I’d recommend for 3-4 people, but you can scale it up from there. We’re making Crawfish boil, creamy cole slaw, and pig’s ears, a Cajun dough fritter.

The best overall strategy here is to set your large pot of water to boil while working on the cole slaw and the pig’s ears. Truly, I recommend making the pig’s ears dessert fresh after enjoying the crawfish boil. It’s a great time for everyone to gather around the stove and there is nothing like eating them straight out of the frying pan. Nothing. So, make sure all of your ingredients are at the ready ahead of time. Start the water, season it, and get to work on the cole slaw, and get that in the refrigerator to marinate. I think cole slaw is best at about 1-2 hours and starts to deteriorate after that, so it’s best to finish it about the time the water is coming to a boil. The potatoes will take about 20 minutes before adding the corn, and after another 10 minutes you add the crawfish. Depending on the BTU’s of your burner, it should return to a boil after 3-5 minutes, meaning by the time you drain your boil and let it rest until you can handle the crawfish to peel them, about an hour has elapsed and your slaw is perfect.

See the sources at the end for companies that ship crawfish.

For the boil:

  • A 5-gallon stock pot
  • 2-1/2 gallons water
  • 3/4 cup kosher salt
  • 8-10 small yellow onions, peeled
  • 2 heads garlic, peeled, about 24 cloves
  • 1 cup Spanish paprika
  • 12 bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup granulated onion
  • 1/4 cup granulated garlic
  • 1/4 cup ground black pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 4 Tablespoons worcestershire sauce
  • 5 ounces Louisiana hot sauce, such as Crystal, Tabasco, or Louisiana brand
  • 3 pounds new potatoes, average 2″ diameter
  • 4 ears corn, shucked and cut into 2″ rounds
  • 10# jumbo Louisiana crawfish

Most crawfish farms sell crawfish that has been purged and is ready to cook, but I recommend giving them a quick rinse in the back yard (or thoroughly sanitized kitchen sink) with a copious amount of cold running water before cooking. Whatever you do, don’t submerge them in a water bath and expect them to 1) survive if they are submerged in water in the sack they arrived in, they have to breathe! or 2) stay where they are if dumped into a basin of water, they will try to get out and explore! Give them a thorough rinse in cold running water and you’re good to go.

Place your stock pot on your burner and add the water. Turn on high heat and add all the seasonings except the worcestershire and hot sauce. Get to work on your slaw in the mean time. When the pot boils, add the potatoes and reduce heat to maintain a gentle boil. Periodically check the potatoes for doneness. Enjoy a cold beer. Once potatoes are just tender, about twenty minutes, add the corn and boil another ten minutes. Add the worcestershire and hot sauce and turn heat back to high. Return to a rolling boil and add crawfish as quickly as possible, but be careful not to throw too many in at once or you may splatter yourself with boiling spicy stuff! Return to a boil for fifteen seconds. Drain at once in a large colander. Dump the whole mess out on a newspaper-covered picnic table in your back yard (or your kitchen table if you’re willing to do a lot of cleanup,) pop another beer, get out your cole slaw, and dig in.

About to go into the pot - grasp them firmly by the thorax from behind, so they can't wiggle free

Creamy Cole Slaw

  • 3 cups very finely shredded white cabbage
  • zest of one lemon
  • juice of three lemons
  • 1 bunch green onions, julienned
  • 1 teaspoon celery salt, or more to taste
  • 1 Tablespoon very finely minced jalapeno
  • 1 small bunch basil, coarsely chopped
  • ½ cup mayonnaise

Place all ingredients in a 4-quart mixing bowl and toss to combine. Cover with a loose fitting lid or plastic wrap and refrigerate immediately. If storing more than 2 hours, refrigerate in an airtight container.

Cajun Pig’s Ears

  • 1-1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour, plus extra for flouring your board
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh hog lard, or virgin palm or coconut oil, plus 2-4 cups for frying
  • 6-10 Tablespoons water, as needed to make a fairly stiff dough
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar or fresh lemon juice
  • powdered sugar for dusting, or cane syrup for dipping

Pig’s ears are best fried in a 2-4 quart heavy-bottomed saucepan, in at least two inches of oil, but use a deep enough pot that your fat only rises halfway up the sides. You want some protection against splatter! Gently heat the oil over medium heat while you make and roll the dough. Use a clip-on thermometer, and shoot for 375 degrees.

Sift the flour before measuring it. Add the baking soda and salt and sift again into a work bowl. Add the 3 Tbsp lard in small bits and work into the dough until thoroughly incorporated. Working quickly, add 6 Tablespoons cold water and the vinegar. Use your hands to press the dough together and work in the liquid. Add water another Tablespoon at a time, if necessary, until the dough just comes together. Quickly roll out on a well-floured board to 1/8″ thick, about the thickness of two quarters stacked. Use a sharp knife or dough cutter to cut long triangle shapes out of the dough. Check the heat of your oil and raise or reduce heat if necessary. At 37-75 degrees, drop the triangles into the hot fat a few at a time. Use a long-handled tong or carving fork to grab the sharp ends of the triangles and bend them upward while frying, until they set into a floppy-ear shape. Continue frying until golden brown. Carefully remove to a clean towel or wire rack to drain a moment. Dust with powdered sugar or drizzle with cane syrup after a minute, while still hot and eat at once.

Resources and Suppliers

Live crawfish

Louisiana Crawfish Company based in historic Natchitoches, has been shipping live crawfish for over a quarter of a century. Skip the online order form and call them on the telephone. Tell them you want really, really big crawfish.

Cajuncrawfish.com is based in Branch, Louisiana, in Acadia Parish in the heart of Cajun Country. As is the same with the Louisiana Crawfish Company, call them on the telephone instead of using the online ordering option.

The photos in this posting are of crawfish we purchased last season from Bayou Bounty which was based in Boutte, and is sadly no longer in business. These were some awesome critters. I can personally vouch for the quality from these two companies, so you’ll be in good hands.

Cajun and South Louisiana Pantry Items

Cajun Grocer is a great option for basic staple items and a lot of fun stuff geared toward the tourist trade. If you’re looking for a can of Steen’s cane syrup and also want some gulf shrimp, they’re not a bad choice, but pricier than some.

Cajun Wholesale is actually a retail store online that offers a wonderful selection including hard to find items like popcorn rice and wild pecan rice, in addition to that can of Steen’s you want to drizzle on your pig’s ears.

This is why you want to enjoy your crawfish boil outdoors
This is why you want to enjoy your crawfish boil outdoors
Some crawfish prefer purple haze