Crawfish, crawfish, crawfish. How I adore thee. You fill my springs with delight and deliciousness, and I continue to love you even though your sharp shells cut up my fingers year after year. So much physical labor… so much pain… for such a small reward. But you are and always will be worth it.
Crawfest is swiftly approaching, and as a student body, we must prepare. As a self-declared crawfish expert, I’m here to provide you with everything you need to know before April 22nd arrives. I present to you: Crawfish 101.
Unlike roses, a crawfish by any other name is NOT as sweet. Please refrain from uttering “crayfish” while you are within state lines. Louisianians are very passionately anti “cray”, so watch what you say. The stranger cousin of crayfish, “mudbugs”, is slightly more acceptable depending on where you are in Louisiana. However, stick to the classic craw’, and you’ll be safe (this includes crawdad).
Where do crawfish come from? Crawfish are freshwater crustaceans. They can be found in ponds, lakes, ditches, and even front yards! A tell-tale sign that you are stepping into crawfish-land are little chimney-like structures made out of balls of mud. These are crawfish holes, and they mark the entrances to the underground dwellings of crawfish. The dream of every Louisiana child is to catch a crawfish from one of these. However, most crawfish we eat in Louisiana come from crawfish ponds, which are farms, but for crawfish. Fun fact: Louisiana is the top producer of crawfish in the world, or at least that’s what it said on a Snapple bottle cap I read once.
While eating crawfish is a wonderful activity, it can also be very painful. With a little preparation, you can avoid pricked fingers and chemically burned skin. Before your boil, make sure you grab some wet wipes and paper towels to wipe off your hands. Not just because they’re smelly (your hands will inevitably smell like seafood for the next week), but because the spices can seriously burn. Also, be careful not to cut your fingers with the shells or break your teeth by biting into the crawfish. Metal shell crackers are always the best option. Finally, grab a nice, refreshing beverage, because if the crawfish are cooked correctly, your lips are going to be burning and you’ll need a way to cool them off. Make sure not to wear white clothes, and you’re all good to go.
Selecting Your Crawfish
All crawfish are not made equal. There are some qualities you should look for when choosing your crustacean. First, the tail’s gotta be curled up. (Flat tail = sick, diseased, spoiled, nasty crawfish.) At least that’s what everyone says. Is it true? I have no idea. But the idea of a spoiled crawfish grosses me out so much that I avoid them altogether. Next, look for a big boy crawdaddy. The bigger the claws, the better. Not just because they have more scrumptious meat, but also because it’s fun to make your friends jealous of your amazing giant crawfish. Finally, don’t forget to grab some lagniappe for your tray. I highly recommend potatoes and onions, if they have them.
How To Eat Them
Peeling and eating crawfish is no simple skill. There’s an art to it. I learned how to peel them by watching my family do it year after year at our annual crawfish boil, so I would like to consider myself an expert on the matter. I always start with the claws as an appetizer. Pull apart the pincher and the arm, and a nice string of meat should come out. Next, twist the head off the body. It’s common in Louisiana to “suck the head, pinch the tail”, a popular phrase that I didn’t realize was supposed to be an innuendo until I mentioned it to my out-of-state friends. After you’ve done that, it’s time to get to the hard part. Peel the rings off the tail one by one, starting with the side closer to the head. Once you’ve peeled all the rings, you should be left with a little c-shaped piece of meat. Eat it straight or dip it in some sauce. Yum.
You’ve eaten your crawfish, you’ve wiped off your hands, you’ve begun to feel veeeery sleepy from all the food you just ate. What now? For funsies, I recommend putting the crawfish heads on your fingers and pretending they’re acrylic nails (see above photo), even if it’s a little gross. If you aren’t in a silly, goofy mood and you just want to go take a nap, make sure you wash your hands and don’t touch your eyes. To help get the smell off your hands, rub your skin with a slice of lemon. Works every time.
I hope this little guide to eating crawfish has been helpful! Go suck those heads, pinch those tails, and live it up at Crawfest.
Featured image via Aline Moreaux.