Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler

It's a bit of a surprise to me, as well as to half my Texas and Louisiana food friends, that in the 12 years I have lived here in Austin, I have yet to experience a good old-fashioned Crawfish Boil.  I've heard all about them from friends that have resided in Cajun Country.  I've eaten my fair share crawfish creole, etouffee, and I'm no stranger to the sweet little meat from their tails, but with all that said, I've still never experienced a true boil.  All that changed a few weeks ago when we followed up on an invitation from our neighbor to come over for their annual  Crawfish Boil and birthday party for their sweet little girl Effie. Of course, being the food lover I am, I asked for advise from my experienced "boil" friends before I went so that I would not look completely dumbfounded once I had one of those mudbugs in my hand. I was given a list of advise - everything from don't rub your eyes to eat cucumbers to cool the heat from the boil.  I was told not to wear chapstick as I needed to experience the full effect. I'm not going to lie, I was a bit scared. I'm all for a bit of spicy flavor but having my lips burnt off? Not really my thing.  So with all of that advise to go along with our ice-bucket of Abita and limoncello, we walked to our neighbors to join the festivities.

It was typical fare when we walked in – a long table out back lined with a plastic cloth and several people just standing around a massive pile of crawfish, sausage, corn, garlic, new potatoes, onions and mushrooms poured right down the middle of the table. Off in the corner of the yard was a boiling pot burning away with a fresh batch. There's a big cooler not far from the fire that hosts 30lbs of lively crawfish on ice. The kids were curious with these little mudbugs and the adults are just intent to get straight to the meat. Because this was a friendly community affair I had no trouble being the "newbie". I walked right up to the table and plenty of well-tuned experts were on hand to show me what I needed to do. Throughout the evening I must have returned to that table at least 3 times for extended rounds of snacking – those things are so addicting! I could not seem to get enough.  I had the lovely opportunity to hear stories from others about how they had been doing these boils since they were kids. Some were straight from Louisiana and some from Houston all having grown up with this amazing tradition.

As with many traditions, the Crawfish Boil comes with its own twists and variations. I found out that many boils are strictly crawfish, potatoes, corn, and sausage. Depending on how someone grew up or what region a person was raised dictated the "extras" that get thrown into the boil.  For this day, we had heads of garlic, lemons and mushrooms added in. That was super yummy. I have also heard that some like to throw in artichokes and oranges.  From the stories I had been told, I was expecting my lips to burn off from the cayenne in the boil spice, but I think my neighbor was on to me and wanted me to enjoy it as it was not nearly as spicy as I had expected. I did have one ear of corn that was pretty spicy so I opted to stay away from most of the other sides and just use my time wisely with the meat. Did I suck the heads? You betcha. Was I impressed with it?  Not really,  it seemed kind of overrated.  I did, however, drink a couple Abita's and they seemed to pair perfectly with those little mud bugs.

I mentioned above that part of the experience and fun of a Boil is the community aspect of it. It's hard NOT to meet and talk to the people standing around this table full of "finger food" and I met some pretty cool people. Aubrey and her husband Joe came with their mom and kids. Aubrey was a crawfish pro – she has been doing crawfish boils her whole life. In fact, her first date with Joe was at a boil( at least I think that is what he told me) . She was quick to show me the tricks to snapping off the heads, sucking the meat out, and separating the meat from the tail.  She did it so quick I had to take a video of her.  Her husband Joe was busy teaching science to all the little ones about "how you can tell if the crawfish is a male or female".  Seem strange? Not really as he had all those kids fascinated.  When it came time for me to leave, the kids were still playing with the few remaining live ones and naming them as pets.

After 12 years of living so close to Louisiana, I am happy to report that I finally "let the good times roll" and could kick myself for not doing this sooner... I'm jus' sayin'!

Curious about Boils for next year? Check out the Do512 site. Then mark it on your calendar for next year as the Crawfish season is a short one (April and May).

Where do you get Crawfish if you want to have your own boil?
Fiesta ~ Quality Seafood

James, the chef and pretty awesome neighbor, standing by his boil pot.
For boil instructions, simply search the internet as there are plenty. Or you can use my neighbor James' condensed version.

In a 36 quart pot
1/2 full water
1 1/2 bags Pro Boil spice mixture
12 lemon halves
1 1/2 sweet onion
Bring to boil
Wait 10 minutes
Then Add
6 corn cob halves
6 small red potatoes
1/2 package of mushrooms
7 sausage links (sliced)
Bring back to boil
15 min until cooked
Then Add
2 sticks of butter
Bring to boil
Cook 13 minutes
Dump on table (plastic table cloths or newspapers work best for this mess). As soon as it's cool to the touch, dig in and get 'em while they're hot!

Hot and Steamy
I'm digging in

Prepare to get messy

Mom and Daughter know how it's done.

Mom, can I have one for a pet?
Fresh Batch Steaming Hot! 
My neighbor having some mud bug fun with her husband.