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Louisiana Crawfish Boil

for Mardi Gras


New Orleans is famous for its cuisine, from sophisticated meals at Antoine's and Commander's Palace to the simpler fare at Acme Oyster House.  I love it all - gumbo, jambalaya and oyster po'boys with a dash of Tabasco but one of my favorite meals is a Crawfish Boil. Every time we visit New Orleans, my husband and I head out of the city to the shores of Lake Pontchartrain and look for a casual seafood restaurant like Deanie's in Metairie.
Louisiana Crawfish Boils are quite the experience and one of the most fun meals to eat. The spicy crawfish are delivered to your table in a bucket then dumped out onto newspapers replacing a tablecloth. You tackle the mound of bright red crustaceans laid out on the Times Picayune eating them with your hands, pulling off the tails and peeling the soft shells to get to the bite of meat inside. You can tell the locals from the tourists because the native New Orleanian likes to "suck the heads" not wasting any morsel of spicy delight!
Crawfish (also known as crayfish or crawdads) are a freshwater crustacean as opposed to shrimp which are harvested from saltwater. Crawfish season runs from late February to mid-May, perfectly timed to enjoy throughout the Carnival Season. Although you can order live crawfish directly from New Orleans, I find the expensive overnight shipping fees cost prohibitive. I take an easier approach - our local Market 32 Price Chopper supermarket sells 3-pound bags of frozen cooked crawfish, already deliciously seasoned and ready to eat. Just steam the crawfish and enjoy.
If you plan to serve the Crawfish Boil as a main course, add some vegetables.  Along with the crawfish, a classic boil contains small potatoes, ears of corn cut in half and artichokes cooked in spicy seasonings such as Zatarain's Crab Boil.  Put on some zydeco music and serve the Crawfish Boil with some lemon wedges and Dixie Beer for a truly authentic experience. 

I remember the shocked look on our friends' faces when I laid out newspapers on our kitchen's center island, drained the crawfish boil then dumped them on the paper. What fun we had rolling up our sleeves and casually gobbling up the crawfish and vegetables as our mounds of empty shells grew. Clean up could not have been easier - just roll the papers up and toss it all in the trash! 
Celebrate Mardi Gras on Tuesday, March 5th, with a Louisiana Crawfish Boil and "laissez les bons temps rouler" - let the good times roll!
3 lb. bag of frozen Cajun-spiced cooked crawfish
1 tablespoon Zatarain's Crawfish, Shrimp and Crab Boil (optional)
2 whole artichokes
6 baby Yukon Gold potatoes
½ large sweet onion, cut into thirds attached at stem end
2 corn on the cobs (cut in half)
Sunday New York Times (or Times-Picayune if available)
1 lemon, quartered
Put the frozen crayfish into a large bowl to thaw in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Rinse the inside of the bag with four cups of water and put the seasoned water into a large pot.  If you have a large steamer pot this works the best. If not, when the crawfish boil is ready you’ll have to drain it into a colander before serving.
While the crawfish are thawing, bring the water in the pot to a boil. If you want the crawfish boil to be extra spicy, add a tablespoon of Zatarain’s Crab Boil.
Place the whole artichokes into the pot. If the water doesn’t cover the artichokes, add a bit more.  Bring to a boil and cook the artichokes, covered, for 15 minutes stirring occasionally.
Add the potatoes and onions to the pot and continue cooking for 20 minutes until the potatoes can be easily pierced with a knife. 
Put the corn on the cob in the pot, then add the crayfish on top.  Continue simmering with the pot covered until the crayfish are warmed throughout, about 10 minutes.  
To serve, set the table with a thick layer of newspapers. Drain the crab boil and mound it in the center of the table (discarding the delicious broth).  Provide plenty of napkins, lemon wedges and perhaps a fork for eating the potatoes and onions in style.
To enjoy whole artichokes, pull off the outer petals one at a time and draw the petal through your teeth, scraping the soft pulp on the underside of the petal. You’ll find that by cooking the artichokes in the crawfish boil broth, a lot of flavor has been infused inside each petal, coating each with red Cajun spices. Just discard the eaten leaves and inner fuzzy artichoke “choke” in the same pile with your crawfish shells!