Crawfish, small freshwater crustaceans distantly related to lobsters, go by many names. Whether you call them crawfish, mudbugs, crayfish or yabbies, they're front and center at the Southern counterpart to the North's New England boil.
Crawfish, low in calories and fat, is similar in flavor to lobster. Almost all the crawfish produced in the United States comes from Louisiana, where it's harvested from the wetlands and grown commercially in ponds. The crustaceans are available frozen, live during crawfish season, and cooked and peeled. The smaller the crawfish is, the more meat in the tail.
The meat shines in etouffee, gumbo, jambalaya and bisque but can substitute for other shellfish in most recipes. Whole crawfish are the star of a crawfish boil, where families and friends gather around a boiling pot of highly seasoned water filled with potatoes, corn and bright red mudbugs. The finished boil is spread out on a table covered with newspaper or butcher paper and served with melted butter.
Crawfish Boil Recipe
Crawfish boil recipes call for a huge pot with a basket, seasonings, crawfish, potatoes and corn. The pot is set on a propane or butane burner with an open flame. A basket makes it easier to remove the cooked ingredients from the pot. If you were using live crawfish, it would also allow any dirt on them to settle to the bottom of the pot.
Fill the pot about half full with water and set it over the heat. Add onions, whole garlic and lemon. When the water boils, add the seasonings. Zatarains Crawfish Boil has real Louisiana flavor, but some cooks prefer Old Bay seasoning.
Add whole potatoes, reduce the heat and cook until they're tender. Remove the potatoes and return the seasoned water to a boil. Add shucked corn and cook for about 10 minutes. Since the frozen crawfish is already cooked, turn off the heat, add the crawfish, return the potatoes to the pot, cover and let stand for about 15 minutes.
Don't use a propane burner indoors. If you don't have an enormous pot or propane burner, use the largest pot you have and cut the recipe in half.
Homemade Crawfish Boil Seasonings
The mixture has heat, but it also has a complex combination of ingredients that add depth to the flavor. Those same flavors will permeate the potatoes and corn in a crawfish boil.
Grind together whole peppercorns, coriander seeds, cloves and allspice. Add them to the water in your crawfish boil pot with salt, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, paprika and onion pepper. Toss dried thyme, oregano, mustard and dill weed into the pot with crumbled bay leaves. The seasoning mix can be made ahead and kept in a jar with a tight lid.
Add more cayenne to up the heat.
During crawfish season, generally from December to June, fish purveyors sell live, fresh crawfish in 35- to 45-pound mesh bags. Small quantities can be found on ice in seafood departments of supermarkets or packaged on the seafood shelves. Live crawfish spoils quickly, so they should be prepared as soon as possible.
Since live crawfish are bagged as soon as they're caught, expect them to be muddy. Rinse them thoroughly and discard any dead crawfish.
If you're using fresh, but not live, crawfish meat, refrigerate it and use it within one or two days. To freeze fresh crawfish, blanch and cool them before removing the tails and the sand vein. Dip the tails in a lemon juice solution to prevent discoloration and put them in freezer bags with a little water.
If you don't plan to use the meat within a couple of weeks, rinse off the fat before freezing. Crawfish will last in the freezer for about nine months.