Memorial Day Crawfish Boil

Crawfish Boil by Jessica BrideDo you have plans for this weekend?  Do you either live in the Gulf Coast or are you a monster at sourcing ingredients?  If your answers are no and then yes then I have an idea!  Let’s host a Louisiana Crawfish Boil!

The memory of my first New Orleans crawfish boils exist in a haze. A montage of scenes: a tub of live crawfish crawling on top of one another, hissing, spitting and snapping. A crawfish race with a young friend (crawfish make great, if short-term, pets). Large men carrying a pot of steaming hot crustaceans to a table made of saw horses and plywood. Plastic Mardi Gras Cups of beer and red wine. Later, my mother explaining to me that it was time for me to learn to peel my own crawfish and that she would no longer be peeling them for me. Piles of crawfish heads. Large black contractor bags for clean up. The smell, days later, of the escaped convicts, the crawfish that were pardoned from the boil, played with and discarded later. 

Crawfish Boil by Jessica Bride

These memories were made in the diminutive concrete back patio of the rented apartment my mother and I shared in the working class neighborhood of Mid City in New Orleans where we moved when I was two.  Family friends, who would go on to become famed for their “Cochon de Lait Po-boys” at Jazz Fest, would come over to cater the crawfish boil, and my mother would set up the music, the drinks and the invitation list. The parties were famous and were held in the midst of Mardi Gras, on the Saturday of the Endymion parade. (The largest of the parades to roll during Mardi Gras, Endymion carries 2,700 masked riders through the streets of Mid City.) The air is electric the morning of the parade and during my childhood it lined up just two blocks from our house.  The parties brought together an eclectic mix of musicians, politicians, bartenders, drag queens, teachers and artists. They started early and ended late, and crawfish were the star.

crawfish boil

Since then I’ve grown up and it is no longer my mom and her friends but now me and my friends hosting the crawfish boils.  As a matter of fact, Mom’s best friend’s son (who was in diapers when I was hosting crawfish derbys), is now in high demand, boiling crawfish all over New Orleans.  It is now our friends who make up the guest lists:  Academics, attorneys, artists and investors make up the audience.  Not enough bartenders, politicians, actors or drag queens show up at our boils so clearly they are missing a certain spice but we do our best.  

Nick at crawfish boil

We spice, boil, peel and eat.  We visit, divide, burn, cry and clean up.  We do it all now – and it is a rare showing for a parent to guide our hands as we take this tradition forward.  We gather around the table and we peel the tails and suck the heads and drink our ice-cold beer.  We peel the tails for our children and warn them about how spicy the potatoes will be.  We look back and forth and think, wait, when did we become the grown-ups? When did we become the ones gathering up the escaped crawfish before they begin to decompose and making sure to use contractor bags for clean up so the claws don’t poke through?  And hot dog!  We’re actually doing it!

Crawfish Boil Shots JBride 2

So yup, we are the grown ups now and we say put the beer on ice, break open the Diet Cokes and turn the music up.  Loud.  Because, you know why?  We can.  We’re in charge.  Monday is Memorial Day.  Have a crawfish boil.  

Louisiana Crawfish Boil
Ingredients for a Louisiana Crawfish Boil
  1. Yields: Plan on 3-7 pounds (1-3 kg) of live crawfish per person depending on size and peeling proficiency. Newbies will have about three, a bayou native will easily consume seven.
  2. 1 35 -40 lb. (15-18 kg) sack of live Louisiana crawfish
  3. 1-2 boxes of salt for purging
  4. 5 lb. sack (2 kg) of small onions, peeled but not cut
  5. 73 oz container of Zatarain’s Crab Boil (each 73 oz / 4.5 lb container seasons one full sack of crawfish)
  6. 4-5 lbs. (2kg) whole mushrooms
  7. 12 lemons, sliced in half
  8. 4 lbs. (2 kg) smoked sausage
  9. 10 lb. (4.5 kg) sack red or new potatoes, unpeeled (look for potatoes larger than a golf ball, smaller than a tennis ball)
  10. 10 ears of fresh corn on the cob – shucked and cut in halves and placed into a mesh bag
  11. 10 full heads of garlic (cut the tops off so the clove can easily be squeezed out after cooking)
  12. 6-10 artichokes
Special equipment
  1. Water source
  2. Garden Hose
  3. Hi-pressure propane burner
  4. Propane tank
  5. Large pot (20L to 120L) with an interior strainer
  6. Hard sided kiddie pool or large tub of some type
  7. Wooden oar
Special dining table set up
  1. Large plastic picnic tables lined with thick sections of newspaper.
  2. Thick enough that, for clean-up, you simply roll up the newspaper and throw it away.
  3. One roll of paper towel for every 4-6 guests.
  4. Tubs of soft margarine.
  5. Large garbage bin lined with contractor clean up bags or multiple layers of regular garbage bags.
  6. Lots of very, very cold beer and soft drinks on hand.
Cooking instructions
  1. 1. Insert the strainer into the crawfish pot and fill pot half-way with water. Add both Zatairains Seasoning bags, onions, garlic, lemons, artichokes and sausage. Bring the water up to a boil. If you need to divide the crawfish into multiple batches then divide the lemons, onions, garlic, artichokes and sausage accordingly.
  2. 2. While the water is coming up to a boil PURGE your crawfish. To do this, use the largest container you can find. My preference is a hard-sided kiddie pool. Pour as many crawfish in as you can fit in a full single layer of the pool, then pour a box of salt evenly over the entire layer. Then, using the garden hose, fill the pool about 1/4 of the way up, rinsing the salt off of the exoskeleton of the crawfish as you are filling up the pool. Stir the crawfish around the water very gently with the boat paddle. Let them sit in the water for about 5 minutes, but no longer or you’ll drown the crawfish. (Surprisingly they breathe air, not water.)
  3. 3. After 5 minutes drain the dirty water and refill with water again for another 5 minutes eliminating the salt this time. Repeat this once or twice until the water is fairly clear. Use this time also to throw out sticks, twigs and dead crawfish. Though purging is often believed to clean out the digestive tract of the crawfish it actually just cleans the dirt away from the exoskeleton – but this is super important! Once the water comes to a boil, let it remain boiling for about 10 minutes. Add the crawfish, potatoes and corn to the pot (add the corn last and leave it in the mesh bag). Let the water return to a boil and continue to boil for 5 minutes, then turn the propane burner off. Let the crawfish rest for 15-20 minutes to soak up the spices (you can taste test at this point also).
  4. 4. Lift the straining insert slowly out of the pot – a good way to do this is by putting the wooden oar under the handle that lifts above the pot and have two strong people hold either side of the straining pot lifting it out slowly. Reserve the hot, spiced cooking liquid for the next batch.
  5. 5. Bring the drained pot over to the prepared table and pour out over the full length of the table.
  6. 6. Don’t eat the dead ones. Those are the ones whose tails are NOT curled. If the tail of a boiled crawfish isn’t curled, he was dead before he hit the water.
  7. 7. For multiple batches repeat steps 1-5 but DO NOT start all over again with fresh water and DO NOT add fresh Zatarain’s Seasoning. Use the same water you used for the first batch with the same seasonings. Just add new vegetables and crawfish.
Belle Année
A more historical version of this appears here:  Food Politic. 

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3 Responses to Memorial Day Crawfish Boil

  1. Bill May 23, 2014 at 15:11 #

    This post brings back so many memories, Jessica. I grew up going to south Louisiana to visit my aunt’s family every summer. My first experience with crawfish was when I was 10 or 11 and I was in love immediately. I went to college in Hattiesburg so every spring, going to the park with crawfish and beer was a regular occurence with my friends. Thanks for taking me down memory lane! Great post!!

    • jessica May 26, 2014 at 21:26 #

      Thanks, Bill! It did the same for me. It was such a strange feeling to realize that my mom was my age now when she hosted those parties…and she must have felt as ill prepared to be in charge as I do now. I did a little more research for an article I wrote on Food Politic (

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