Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Secrets of Boiling Great Crawfish

Good Friday is probably the most popular day of the year in South Louisiana to fire up the burners for a crawfish boil. And for as many sacks of mudbugs tossed in the pot, I imagine that there is an equal number of seasoning methods used - from simple recipes consisting primarily of liquid crab boil to elaborate concoctions that resemble the work of Ferran Adria.

So what's the secret to great tasting crawfish? The long and short of it is: I don't know. It is probably just as truthful to say that there are many secrets as it is to say that there are no secrets.

Last week I had the honor and good fortune to serve as a judge for the annual crawfish boil fundraiser for The Drew Rodrigue Foundation, along with two other individuals who happen to know a hell lot more about food than I do - Aaron Burgau of Patois and Justin LeBlanc of Southern Yacht Club. We ate our way through 26 teams' worth of crawfish, and surprisingly we could taste the differences in flavor in each batch all the way through the end. Though we were not privy to each team's seasoning method, I did take away a few tips which I thought would be helpful to share.
  1. Unlike making mashed potatoes and garlic bread, butter should be used in moderation in your crawfish boil. A few batches that we tasted were basically poached in liquid gold, which sounds good but the spice is then relegated to the background.
  2. The southwest Louisiana method of seasoning the outside of the crawfish is acceptable but not as an exclusive method. Boiling your crawfish in what amounts to seawater imparts no flavor to the fat and tail meat, no matter how many shakes of Tony Chachere's your pour on after the fact.
  3. Lemon is your friend. The acid really brings out the flavors in your boil and can help offset some of the heat from the cayenne.
  4. In my most humble of opinions, I implore you to please leave the pineapple out of your crawfish pot.
There was also a lagniappe category judged separately from crawfish, and we saw some interesting additions to the typical potatoes, corn, and sausage. This discussion though is another topic for another blog post, but suffice it to say that there may be no better lagniappe than the turkey neck.

As for the winning team, the judges unanimously agreed that theirs was head and shoulders above all others. Interestingly enough, after the final decision had been made, we learned that the winner employed a homemade spice blend dusted over the crawfish just before serving. That secret reminded me of Brett Anderson's recent article on the Cajun Claws, and I immediately started formulating a plan for a Saturday afternoon trip to Abbeville.

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