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Last Indulgence: Boil Down

Spring in New Orleans is the prime time for the spicy, joyous celebration of a crawfish boil

Not long after I moved back to New Orleans in 2008, I attended my first crawfish boil in almost a decade. So much was familiar: Peeling crawfish is like riding a bike, I think – it all came back to me – and the mellow taste of the crawfish, the mealy spiciness of the potatoes, the burning of my lips and the grease and grime coating my fingers all triggered precious sensory memories from boils of years past. The one difference was that this time, I was peeling crawfish with my then-15-month-old daughter, Ruby, strapped to my front in a BabyBjörn. As I peeled a particularly robust crustacean, Ruby’s chubby little hand shot out, and before I even knew what was happening, she had stolen the crawfish from me and crammed it in her mouth. She whimpered when it was gone, and for a brief moment, I thought it was too spicy for her. Then I realized it was just that she wanted more. I spent the rest of the afternoon peeling extra crawfish for her, proud beyond words of my little NOLA girl.

Ruby is 5 now, and her tastes these days tend more toward peanut butter, Cheddar Bunnies and Teddy Grahams, but she still loves the festivity of a crawfish boil, even if she doesn’t want any part of sucking the heads. Peeling crawfish, however, is on my life skills list for her, right up there with swimming, diagramming sentences and driving a stick shift.

Like almost everything culinary in New Orleans, there are numerous debates about the “right” way to boil crawfish: But one thing that is not up for argument is that crawfish boils are synonymous with spring in the Crescent City. So before it gets beastly hot out there, boil up a ton of crawfish, spread the table with old Times-Picayunes and get down to the business of peeling and eating – and creating and reviving the best kind of sensory memories.

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