How to Host a Crawfish Boil
Nail this essential spring activity with pro tips from Houston chef Drake Leonards
As we enter into spring, backyards across the state are opening up to friends and family, who gather in the sun to eat, drink and enjoy a couple pleasant months before summer ruins it for everyone. Beer and grilled meats are always fan favorites, but if you’re situated along the Gulf Coast or the Louisiana border, if you’ve got Cajun roots or if you just enjoy eating mounds of crustaceans, there’s a decent chance one of those gatherings will involve crawfish.
The typical crawfish boil sees large amounts of the shellfish cooked in huge pots with seasonings and extras, like potatoes, corn and sausage, and spread out for all to enjoy, ideally with a cold drink and plenty of napkins. This exact scenario can play out at your place, but before you lug 60 pounds of crawfish through the house, it’s best to follow some expert advice — like the kind you’ll get from Drake Leonards, the chef behind Eunice in Houston. The restaurant is named for his Louisiana hometown and serves a modern Cajun-Creole brasserie-style menu inspired by the flavors of his childhood.
“I was raised in Southwest Louisiana, where most of the summer rice crop turns into spring crawfish ponds with traps as far as the eye can see,” Leonards tells InsideHook. “When I was in high school, I had about 40 acres and a push boat that I ran traps on for myself. Needless to say, it kept me out of trouble.”
It also taught Leonards everything he needed to know, and will graciously pass onto you, about throwing a good crawfish boil, from sourcing high-quality mudbugs to stocking your shindig with all the necessary equipment.
Traditionally, crawfish season runs from February through June, with primetime occurring from early March to early May. If you’re in the south, Leonards says you can likely purchase a live sack of crawfish from a trusted local supplier, like a seafood market, a grocery store or direct from a farm. In Leonards’s case, he likes to visit Toups Farm in Acadia Parish, Louisiana, which supports about 150 acres of crawfish. For everyone else, order online. He recommends Louisiana Crawfish Co., which will ship crawfish straight to your door.
When purchasing crawfish, Leonards explains that sacks come two different ways: “field run” and “washed and graded.” He prefers the latter, as they yield the largest and cleanest crawfish.
“Remember, they need to be alive. They should be moving,” he explains. If you need to store them overnight, Leonards says to place the sack of crawfish in an ice chest with ice on top to keep them cool, with a target temperature of around 40 degrees. Keep the drain plug open and crack the lid so they can breathe.
Hosting a Successful Boil
If you’re inviting people over, you can issue directives for appetizers and dessert, but it’s always a good idea to have some snacks ready.
“Since boiling crawfish can be a long process, I always like something to snack on,” says Leonards. “My go-to is burrata cheese and pepper jelly with grilled bread or warm biscuits.” For dessert, he likes turning spring strawberries into a warm cobbler and topping it with a little scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. And to drink, he suggests something cold and refreshing to complement the spiced shellfish, like an easygoing beer or a chilled white wine or rosé.
Back to the main course: Leonards says that a sack of crawfish is usually about 32-35 pounds, so depending on the crowd, he suggests accounting for about 2 to 3 pounds for a novice and 3 to 5 pounds per person for a more experienced group. But a good crawfish boil features more than just crawfish. It’s an opportunity to get creative and throw in other ingredients that complement the star of the show. There’s no specific blueprint to follow here, but Leonards recommends a few classic accompaniments.
“I love to add corn, potatoes, mushrooms, smoked sausage, onions, asparagus and lots of lemons into my boil,” he says. For the seasoning, he uses Zatarain’s or Slap Ya Mama brand powder or liquid mix, which is available at most stores or online, plus some extra salt to season the water.
Naturally, you will need a big pot. Leonards suggests a 60-80 quart pot with a jet burner and plenty of propane to keep the fire going. This size lets you cook one sack of crawfish at a time. Once everything’s ready, it’s time to feed the hungry masses who’ve been anxiously eyeing that bubbling cauldron.
“I like to serve my boil on a newspaper-lined table and dump the crawfish on top,” says Leonards. “Let new friends and old stand elbow to elbow and get to pinching heads.”
Nothing brings people together like pinching heads.
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