Crawfish, crawdads, mudbugs, crayfish... the crustacean that looks like a mini lobster has many names and many different preparations. There's crawfish etouffee, fried crawfish, crawfish casserole, crawfish pasta, crawfish pie, even crawfish beignets. But my hands down favorite way to eat crawfish is boiled. I'm from Louisiana, which supplies 98% of the crawfish harvested in the United States. I'm headed to Lafayette this week for Festival International de Louisiane, where lots of crawfish will surely meet their fate to some hungry Cajuns.
A crawfish boil is an art. And people in Louisiana will gladly give their opinion on the proper way to host this meal which almost always doubles as a party. Crawfish are usually boiled live in a large pot with heavy seasoning (salt, cayenne pepper, lemon, garlic, bay leaves, etc.) and other items such as potatoes, corn on the cob, onions, garlic, mushrooms and sausage. A crawfish boil is a family affair: kids squeal as they pick up the slow, backward-crawling creatures, parents hang out drinking beer at picnic tables covered in newspaper and hope the dog doesn't eat too many crawfish during the day.
A popular saying in Louisiana is "Suck the heads, pinch the tails". Once you separate the tail from the head, you suck the head of the crawfish because lots of flavor collects in the fat of the boiled interior. A dipping sauce of ketchup and mayonnaise with lots of Cajun spices (it sounds gross, but it's really delicious) accompanies this to provide even more richness. I had fun scouring YouTube for "How to Peel a Crawfish" videos. While I disagree with her beverage choice in this one (Louisiana's craft brew Abita is best with crawfish) and honestly don't even know if she's of legal drinking age (but hey, it's Louisiana!), the first step in this video is absolutely true. You gotta start with the biggest! Her peeling method is pretty right on as well. Plus, there's a good Zydeco tune while you watch:
Now that you know to peel the suckers, you don't have to wait until you take a trip down South to enjoy a real crawfish boil. Check out The Chopping Block's hands on class in May featuring Fried Oysters with Remoulade, Boiled Crawfish with Corn, Andouille Sausage and Potatoes and Bananas Foster. It's part class, part party!