Chef Ja’Nel: Simple Tips and Recipe for Crawfish Season

Spring is my favorite time of year! Flowers are in bloom, my birthday is near, and most importantly, crawfish season is in full swing!!

I am admittedly somewhat of a crawfish addict. I have been known to eat crawfish up to 3 times per week and never turn down a crawfish boil invite. As a consumer, this makes me somewhat of a crawfish connoisseur right?
So as a chef, I thought it would only make sense to be good at making what I love to eat!

I have always associated crawfish with Louisiana considering 98% of all US bound crawfish comes from there. But Houston also has a very lively and established crawfish eating culture. You can really sense it around this time of year because the number of crawfish festivals and crawfish boils increase exponentially heading into the summer.

This year we are got off to an early start because crawfish farmers began increasing supply ahead time due to the Superbowl being held in New Orleans.  Crawfish season generally begins in the late winter months, but this time of year is when the size is perfect.

This has all created the perfect storm for me to try my hand at making crawfish and I’d like to share my recipe and a few cooking tips with you.These little mudbugs can be tricky to prepare  but over-cooked and under-seasoned crawfish are a preventable offense with the right tools and technique.

  1. Tools– Largest stock pot you have, cooler (ice chest), tongs, large strainer, and GLOVES (they are angry little buggers). If you can, get an outdoor gas burner. I prefer to boil the crawfish outside, but this of course is optional.
  2. Fresh vs Frozen– If you can get live crawfish, this is the way to go.  They generally tend to be tenderer, and less water-logged after cooking. Tough, chewy, or mushy crawfish can ruin all of your hard work. Buying fresh also tends to be more cost effective.
  3. Preparing Live Crawfish– AKA purging the crawfish. Transfer the live mudbugs to an ice chest or cooler. Fill it with cold water, and allow to sit for 3-5 minutes. You will see the water become cloudy, as the crawfish expel the impurities. Drain the water and repeat until the water runs clear. It usually takes about 3-4 rounds. Also use this time to remove any dead crawfish from the bunch. If they aren’t kicking and crawling, toss them out!!
  4. Timing– Generally it takes between 7-12 minutes for the perfectly cooked crawfish. If they are small reduce time to 3-5 mins.  If they are large, increase to 10-15 mins.  Make sure the water is boiling before you add the crawfish, and make sure the water returns to a boil before you begin the cook time. As with most shellfish, color is a good indicator of doneness.  Bright red means stop cooking.
  5. The Boil– There are many prepared boils on the market. These are an easy and delicious way to season your crawfish. In my case however, it’s just a starting point. This is my recipe for 25-30 lbs of crawfish. Be sure to taste the boil before adding crawfish, and adjust seasoning if necessary!

Ingredients

  • 6 ea Zatarain’s “crab shrimp crawfish” boil in bag pouches
  • 10 ea whole garlic bulbs-halved
  • 5lbs oranges-halved
  • 2lbs lemons- halved
  • 2lbs limes- halved
  • 2lbs onions-quartered
  • 3 ea coconut water (11.8oz I like Goya brand)
  • 1/3 cup whole cloves
  • 10 each whole cinnamon sticks
  • ½ cup whole peppercorns
  • 1 cup cayenne pepper (increase to desired spice level)
  • 1/2 cup red pepper flakes
  • Salt to taste

These tips work great for the first time crawfish cook, or even a well-seasoned pro.  Crawfish boils are as much about getting your friends and family together, as the ingredients, or finished project. So call everyone you know, pull out that stack of used Sunday papers, and prepare your fingers to peel and eat those tasty little mudbugs. My tummy is already growling!!