It's crawfish season in southern Louisiana, which means it's also crawfish boil season. The Cajun tradition – as much an act of eating as of socializing – involves boiling lots of crawfish in a spicy liquid along with various meats and vegetables, then serving it all to guests in the most unceremonious manner: heaped on top of a newspaper-covered table, where it's every (barehanded) man for himself. It's a springtime ritual that works just as well for large crowds at a bar as for a small group of friends in a backyard. "In Louisiana, crawfish boils are a way of life," says Chris "Shaggy" Davis, owner of seafood catering company NOLA Crawfish King. "It's how you get people together."
Fortunately, you don't need to be down South to throw your own backyard crawfish boil. During the season, which generally runs March 1 through the end of May, it's easy to have live Louisiana crawfish shipped anywhere in the country (and you do want the real deal – crawdads from China, where the species is not native, are typically cheaper but precooked and a less sustainable option). Think of it as the messier, more unruly – and more fun – cousin of a warm-weather BBQ. "Don't forget the wet naps," Davis says.
The NOLA Crawfish King's Crawfish Boil
Equipment you need:
• a big pot (60-quart is good) with a basket insert
• a high-pressure propane burner
• a long table and newspapers, for serving
Ingredients (serves 10)
• 3 lbs small-to-medium red potatoes, whole
• 5 heads garlic, cut in half (peeling not required)
• 3 stalks celery, cut into 2-inch pieces
• 15 oranges or lemons, sliced into rounds
• 3 lbs uncooked andouille (or other smoked sausage), cut in 3-inch pieces
• 4.5 lbs crab boil (like Louisiana Fish Fry's)
• 3 bottles Louisiana Hot Sauce
• 40 lbs. live Louisiana crawfish, rinsed in fresh water and kept moist (Davis recommends Louisiana Crawfish Company)
• 24 3-inch ears of frozen corn on the cob
Fill pot about three-quarters full with water – once everything, including crawfish, is in pot, the water should cover by an inch or so. Add potatoes, garlic, celery, orange/lemons, and sausage, and cook on high heat. When it's boiling, add crab boil and hot sauce. Let boil for 10 minutes.
Add crawfish, and bring back to a boil (about five minutes). Once it's boiling again, shut off the heat. Add frozen corn and stir. Let it all soak together, uncovered, for 25 min, stirring occasionally.
To serve: Cover an eight-foot-long table with newspaper. Strain the contents of the pot using the basket insert; dump everything onto the covered table. "Then stand around and get to know each other," says Davis.