May 20, 201510:53 AM
Design, entertaining and good living with New Orleans Bride and Homes & Lifestyles editor Melanie Warner Spencer
One woman’s struggle to suck it up and suck the head
all photos by melanie warner spencer
Crawfish season comes to a close in June, so Mark and I have hit as many boils as possible over the past few weeks. My zeal for the tiny crustaceans is recent, as there was a time in the not too distant past when I was so squeamish about mudbugs, I wouldn’t even entertain the thought of actually eating one. The first boil I ever attended was in Austin, Texas and sadly, potatoes and corn were my only point of interest. About three years ago in Houston, I finally got up enough nerve to try some and have never looked back. That said, until this weekend, I still avoided sucking the head. A recent conversation with Renaissance Publishing’s editor in chief, Errol Laborde, started weighing on my mind. New Orleans Magazine featured “Crawfish 7 Ways” in the May issue, so the subject has been a frequent topic of discussion around the office of late. Errol’s position is that there is no excuse for not sucking the head. It’s possible that he said people who don’t suck the head should be kicked out of the state, but I might have imagined that part. I’m happy to report however, that during a Sunday afternoon boil at the Courtyard Brewery in the Garden District, everything changed.
That day, I encountered crawfish so large and majestic, and a boil so flavorful, the idea of failing to honor the life and sacrifice of that big beautiful mudbug and the toil of the boiler, John the Lawyer, by eschewing the head sucking seemed wrong and downright ill mannered. So, I sucked it up and sucked the head. It felt good to conquer that little food fear.
John the Lawyer said he did his first boil at 15. A native-Louisianan, John has been perfecting his boil recipe ever since, and I have to say, flavor-wise, it was one of the best I’ve experienced in my short crawfish eating career. As is often the case, the juices got a bit spicier with each batch, but never too spicy. We tipped our hats to him with every heaping plate. John said someday he hopes to give up this lawyering thing to become a full-time boil master. I support him in this aspiration.
A few of his fellow natives sat at a nearby table discussing the trails and tribulations of introducing visiting friends and family to crawfish culture. They mentioned when boiling for locals, it’s important to plan for about four pounds per person. For uninitiated visitors, they said one pound per person is more than enough, which is a great nugget of information to tuck away for when I decide to tackle a boil of my own. I admitted to one of the party that, in defense of cowardly crawfish newbies everywhere, it took me three years to get up the nerve to suck the head (and only after being shamed by my boss). I’m from Kentucky and needless to say, we didn’t encounter many crawfish boils during my formative years. I employed her to be patient with those of us not familiar with the festive food and that there are some who, like me, will ultimately come around to the joy of the juice.
It’s true, not everyone likes crawfish or can even fathom trying it. The tail however does seem to be the “gateway drug” and even those who won’t twist one off of the creature itself will still eat it in various dishes, such as crawfish étouffée or jambalaya.
If you are game however and have wanted to try it, or if this post has piqued your curiosity, there is still time to jump in head (or tail) first before the season ends. In that spirit, here are a few rules of the road from someone who understands your plight:
Use your hands, dig in and get dirty.
Twist off the tail, and either pinch the end and suck out the meat, or separate the underside of shell and pull the meat out. Dip it in some melted butter if that’s something you are into.
“Suck the head,” if you are ready. You’ll want to squeeze it as you suck and really all you are doing is getting a shot of the spicy, flavorful juices.
Enjoy a cold beer. We recommend a Louisiana brand, such as Abita. We tried the Courtyard Brewery Hibiscus Pale Ale on Sunday. It’s mild sweetness and hint of fruitiness paired exceedingly well with the spices in the crawfish.
Spatter your neighbors with juice.
Cherry pick for only the biggest “bugs” (guilty).
Waste the crawfish (for example, tossing it if you don’t get a good crack).
Act prissy, after all you are supposed to use your hands and get dirty.
Finally, remember, a crawfish boil is a communal affair, so bring a friend, belly up and get ya some bugs! Several local restaurants and bars still have weekly boils in the coming weeks. Clesi’s Catering in Mid-City, which has been doing boils at several local bars, including one of our Garden District favorites, the Prytania Bar, the Blue Crab in Lakeview and the Rivershack Tavern on River Road are good places to start, but call your favorite hangout and ask, because you never know what’s cookin’ during crawfish season.
Do you have any crawfish do’s or don’ts to share? Post them in the comments or email me at Melanie@MyNewOrleans.com.