Friday, July 24, 2009

Crawdadfish Boil*


A good ol' Louisiana style crawdadfish* boil means a couple things to me. Above all, it means good times, like that first visit to New Orleans when my friend Tipton and I were driving cross-country and taking in a Cubs game at Wrigley. After a few tall ones in the bleachers we decided a detour due south made perfect sense and 24 hours later we were crossing the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway into the Big Easy and soon sitting in front of a mound of cooked crawfish at Franky & Johnny's—my first taste of the mudbug.

The other thing a boil means to me is disaster narrowly averted. My second visit to New Orleans (also during a cross-country adventure) was with Warpo. We caught Mardi Gras, or it caught us, and when it came time to flee we barely made it to the county line before the wheels fell off. Actually, it was the alternator. We pitched a tent on a dry spot in an otherwise boggy lowland haunted by a locquatious hoot-owl and hoofed it to a nearby barn on the side of the road where a local boil was in progress. Now maybe it was because our transport had failed us, or perhaps it was the mournful droop of weeping willows across fetid ground, or even those Poesque protestations from that blasted owl, but I was pretty convinced this might be our last meal. The bayou looked, sounded, and smelled ready to swallow us up for good. When I get nervous I eat, and on that night I ate like there was no tomorrow. Really, I'll never put away so many crawdadsfish* again. The next day, though, a new alternator materialized out of the swamp and we effected our escape to another Bermuda Triangle of sorts, Taos, NM, where the funky fresh Cadillac Seville shit the bed once more, a story for another time.

More recently, when my pal Bill told me that crawdadsfish* could be fished out of the reservoir near my folks' place in Colorado, I knew another boil was in the offing. It was our last weekend in the Rockies and I had friends coming up from Denver and Boulder. What better way to wind up a month-long getaway than a crawfish boil?

Cowboy showed up with plenty of Ska beer ("Lip up fatty!") and Betty brought her acerbic sense of humor, which goes well with lots of ice cold beer and crustaceans in the shell. Me, I set the traps Thursday night after fishing the Yampa River and picked them up the next morning. A feast of cat food and fish pellets did the job: We had poundage of the mudbugs scuttling around in the traps.

Lacking my usual spice cabinet, I picked up some Zatarain's liquid Shrimp & Crab Boil and the basic ingredients: Andouille sausage, corn, small red potatoes, mushrooms, onions, garlic, and a few lemons. We purged the crawdadsfish* with several changes of water; some say to use salt in this process (the crawdads don't like it and spit the salty water out, along with the usual mud and debris) but we found it unnecessary. Really, the only complicated part was the timing. You want to use a big stockpot and bring to a boil and cook for several minutes most of the ingredients and spices minus the crawdadsfish* and corn. Then you add the crawdadsfish* and boil for another 5 minutes or so before killing the heat and allowing everything to steep, covered, for at least 20 minutes to soak up the spices. The longer the spicier.

The problem in my mind was how to time the corn. I'm in the 5 to 7 minute camp. Among the many web sites I reviewed, such as this one, none seemed especially concerned about chewy, overcooked corn. Though the boil starts to get a little blurry in my memory at this point, I seem to remember we took some precautions, which involved keeping the ears of corn separate in the pot, removing them after 5 minutes of boil, and then returning them at the end for a few minutes of steeping. A wire basket helps in this task. In any event, the corn turned out perfect, with spiciness and crunch intact.

Per usual boil etiquette, we drained and poured the contents out on newspaper and feasted in the great outdoors. I don't have to tell you it was good. Eating crawdadsfish* is a primal experience along the lines of pig roasts, crab feeds, and other messy, carnivorous hoe-downs en plein air that everyone should try, except maybe vegans and vegetarians. Pinch tail, suck head, drink beer. Repeat. After recovering the next day, we cooked up the leftover crawdadsfish* in quesadillas with green chiles.



* According to my Tweet pal Anne: "Don't let a Loisiannan hear you say 'crawDAD'! It's crawfish, chere! :)"

15 comments:

matt said...

brilliant story mate. A riveting read as usual. The boil looks awesome

jacqueline church said...

As a Maryland girl, I'll take a bit mess of steamed blue crab any day of the week. Love those mudbugs too, though I came to them later in life. Funny thing is my husband will do crawfish but finds blues "too much work" - figure that one out!

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Need to do this. Lots of 'dads in the Delta, but they are of sketchy quality. Heard there are tons in a few High Sierra lakes. Should toss a trap in when I go trout fishing...

Embedded_Guy said...

Hailing from NOLA myself, I'd say you did a marvelous job re-creating a good ol' crawfish boil. Nice job!

BTW - Check out Alligator Soul in Everett if you get another hankerin' for crawfish as they periodically do boils.

Annie said...

I only claim authority re: the term "crawfish" having been corrected myself by friends in Nachitoches and NOLA. Gave me fair warning that I'd be laughed outta whatever fine establishment I was trying to order 'crawdads' from. I really enjoyed the blog post, by the way! Sounds like an excellent boil!

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Uh, like Louisiana has some lock on proper terminology or recipe dominance for crayfish, crawfish, crawdads or mudbugs? Puh-leeze. Californians have been eating them heartily for a century or more, and the Italians in New Jersey used to gather them in streams and cook them up as well.

Katie said...

This definitely brings back memories of summer days back when I lived in Florida. I don't know where I'm going to find crawDADs in Michigan, but maybe I'll have to do this with shrimp...

Garrett said...

I remember my first craw---- boil. Loved it. There's a guy who sells them here in Sacramento at the FM and I keep wanting to get some. Might just do so now. =)

LC said...

Matt - I'm guessing you'd love a boil. We should look into Lake Washington...

Jacqueline Church - I eat blues when I can but agree with your husband that the mudbugs are easier to peel. Have you tried Dungeness crab?

Hank - What's sketchy about 'em? As long as you purge they should be fine--or are they loaded with nasty contaminants?

Embedded_Guy - Alligator Soul, huh? I'm there. Thanks for the tip!

Annie - The Web has some interesting etymologies re: crayfish, crawfish, crawdad. Farther west you go, it seems, the more corrupted the original--which is of course a corruption to begin with.

Hank - Now, now. I'm not going to get into a regional dispute, but I'd have to give Louisiana the honors if there's a so-called "Capital of Crawfish." Anyway, since I included the conceit that this would be a "Louisiana-style boil" I might as well get the local dialect right.

Katie - I bet all those frog ponds scattered around Michigan are LOADED with crawDADs.

Garrett - Nice straddling of the craw---- fence! You and Hank should plot a boil.

Ra said...

I have a friend that went free diving for mudbugs a couple of weeks ago. He didn't get much, and I read that the best depths are around 15-30', and not below 40'. I think that sounds like too much effort for free diving - I'm going to either have to look into diving for them on scuba or just getting a pot.

LC said...

Ra - I'd agree that free-diving for mudbugs is too much effort--not just the diving but the catching. They're quick lil buggers. I free-dive for Dungies and would never even consider diving for 'dads. Get a trap. BTW, I dig yr blog.

Student Nurse said...

The crawfish/crawdad argument is like father/Dad. One's just a little more familiar. I grew up in SE Texas (yep, right next to Lake Charles, LA) and Lousianans definitely don't have dibs on all things crawdad. We ate tons of the nasty little bugs growing up.

Chanel said...

Gee, now you're really making me wish I'd packed frozen boiled crawfish on the plane my last trip home to Houston in early May when we did a boil. My brother and I put away a 30 lbs sack by ourselves. We boiled them in small batches and kept the excess hot in a cooler. Never knew I loved crawfish so much until I moved to N. Cali where they're ridiculously expensive and not as easy to come by. Ah, the days of family boils of several hundred pounds in LA on the bayou or SE TX. Oh well, will console myself by making some etouffee with the LA tails I still have in the freezer. At least I always bring those back to Cali along with my fav boudin.

Ra said...

Thanks! I forgot to check the 'email follow-up' comments and didn't even see your reply til now. Anyways, I thought I needed to comment on the scuba diving aspect since I've done it now (albeit, just a short time). They are EASY to catch. I mean it - they don't move, and my free-diving friend (who is in the process of getting scuba certified) has pretty much said the same thing. Of course, it's still probably easiest to just throw a basket out there, but it's kind of fun finding them yourself.

betsy delph said...

I'd say, given the fact this here is a NORTHWEST-type of food-gathering food blog, that crawDAD is how it's pronounced, and New Orleans be damned, no offense, of course, but we're not there, we're HERE, and we're crawdadding fools!