The crown jewel of Louisiana's complex and multi-cultural cuisine can feel daunting to make at home. But it's easier than you think and tastier than you can imagine. Let's learn how to boil crawfish at home, including making the very best cajun butter sauce for seafood!
The first time I visited New Orleans, I had already eaten my fair share of crawfish in seafood restaurants across the country. I liked them well enough to keep ordering them, but the flavor was always a bit...meh. Take it or leave it. But since I read and watched so much about the glories of a great crawfish boil, I was sure I was missing something.
And then we had a true cajun crawfish experience in Louisiana, and it all became clear. The clouds parted. Angels sang. It was, indeed, glorious.
I was determined to recreate this magic in my own kitchen. And you can, too!
When I moved to Portugal, I didn't think crawfish would be a regular part of my life, except on visits back to the states. Wrong again! Turns out Portugal has its own native species of crawfish. And then Louisiana crawfish were introduced into Spanish waters in 1973. Six years later, they showed up in Portuguese rivers.
All of the crawfish I've seen in fish markets around our village are whole, in the shell, and already blanched and bright red. But since live crawfish have such a short cook-time (about 3-5 minutes) - reheating these blanched crawfish require the same process. So the pictures below show bright red crawfish at the beginning of the process, and if you're in the US using live or raw crawfish, your starting product will be a darker brown color when you first add them to your large pot of seasoned water at a rolling boil. Once they are cooked, they will float to the top of the pot a bright red color, and that's how you know they're cooked.
How much crawfish will I need?
The second major difference you'll find between Louisiana and Portugal (or most other parts of the world) is the volume of crawfish you can buy at a time. In Louisiana, these live crustaceans are sold as a 30-35 pound sack of crawfish. That many pounds of live crawfish would be enough for you to host your own neighborhood Mardi Gras festival! In Portugal, whole crawfish are sold by the kilo. I bout 3 kilos to feed two people - about 6 ½ pounds of crawfish. And we had leftovers (keep reading to discover my favorite dish to make with leftover seafood boil ingredients!)
What kind of equipment do I need to boil crawfish?
The recipe below feeds 2-3, and the equipment needed includes a large Dutch oven (or stock pot) for boiling the crawfish, corn and potatoes, a spider or strainer, and a second large pot or container with lid for steaming the hot crawfish in cajun butter sauce, when finished.
For a 30-35 pound sack of crawfish, you need an entirely different set of equipment - an outdoor propane burner, a very large size pot that holds 15-18 gallons of water, a giant strainer basket (or wire basket insert), and a large ice chest or large tub to steam the just-boiled crawfish in a cajun butter sauce.
What is the best seasoning for a crawfish boil?
Old Bay Seasoning, liquid crab boil, ground crawfish boil spices and even your own spice mix are all delicious in a crawfish boil. But I must note that after making seafood boils for years, I heard a Louisiana chef say that seasoning the crawfish boil water didn't do very much to season the crawfish - that was the job of the cajun butter sauce. Seasoning the water just makes it smell delicious as your guests arrive. Since my mind was blown by that tasty revelation, I've cut way back on the crawfish boil seasoning I add to the boiling water. I want the water to be seasoned lightly, but I focus much more on adding flavor and spice to the cajun butter sauce. It's been a winning philosophy for me!
Let's get this crawfish party started!
What you'll need to boil crawfish:
- small red potatoes
- corn on the cob
- Old Bay Seasoning
- bay leaves
- Cajun butter sauce (for serving)
(ingredient photo includes items for the cajun butter sauce for seafood, including onions, garlic, orange, cayenne, butter and lemon pepper)
Step by step instructions for making this crawfish recipe:
To begin, if using fresh crawfish, wash crawfish very well under running cool water. (Anything called a "mud bug" will require a good cleaning.)
The recipe below is for 2-3 people. Begin by filling a stock pot or dutch oven about ¾ full of water (for 6 pounds of crawfish I used a very large Dutch oven.)
Add 2 tablespoons coarse sea salt, 2 tablespoons Old Bay Seasoning, 3 quartered onions, 2 bay leaves and a head of garlic cut in half to your pot of water.
Note: After making seafood boils for years, I heard a Louisiana chef say that seasoning the crawfish boil recipe water didn't do very much to season the crawfish - that was the job of the cajun butter sauce. Seasoning the water just makes it smell delicious as your guests arrive. Ever since, I've cut way back on the crawfish boil seasoning I add to the boiling water. I want the water to be seasoned lightly, but I focus much more on adding flavor and spicy seasonings to the cajun butter sauce. And it's been a winning philosophy for me!
Next bring mixture to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, add tiny red potatoes and corn.
Cook 8 minutes (if your potatoes are larger, cut them in half, or plan to boil at this stage for 10-12 minutes and wait to add the corn until the potatoes have boiled about 5 minutes).
I usually remove the corn and potatoes at this stage to make room for the crawfish. If your pot is big enough to hold both, go ahead and add crawfish.
Bring the mixture back up to a boil. Once boiling, cover and cook 3-4 minutes, until the crawfish float to the surface and turn deep red.
Transfer cooked crawfish, new potatoes, corn, onions and garlic to a second stock pot or roaster pan. Once it's all nestled in, toss your seafood and veggies in cajun butter sauce.
FAQ's and Serving Suggestions for this Crawfish Seafood Boil:
In the United states, the best time of year for Louisiana crawfish season begins as early as December and ends around July, although you can find quality frozen crawfish year-round.
My favorite day-after meal is to dice up the potatoes and onions and garlic, cut the corn off the cob, and make a crawfish hash with poached eggs for brunch. I usually make extra potatoes and corn just to be sure I have enough leftovers on day 2. If I have enough leftover crawfish, I'll shell them and make a batch of crawfish pies or crawfish bisque.
My favorite addition is large, shell-on shrimp to make a crawfish and shrimp boil with all the sides. Crawfish bring a very particular flavor and shelling / eating experience to the party. But shrimp can do a lot of heavy lifting in filling up hungry bellies! There's just a lot more meat in a shrimp than a crawfish - which has a lot more "craw" than "fish" per crustacean 😉 If you're cooking for non-pescatarians, andouille sausage is a another fun and flavorful way to add volume to your seafood boil.
While making your crawfish, popular veggie add-ins include mushrooms, artichokes, celery and fresh green beans.
The rule of thumb I live by: if you're serving the crawfish as an appetizer or with other hearty meats, 2 pounds per person will suffice. If crawfish is the main course and star of the event, 3-5 pounds per person is your best bet.
Obviously you'll need a delicious sauce or two to complete a proper crawfish meal!. Cajun butter sauce for seafood is my favorite all purpose butter sauce. Vietnamese Crawfish Sauce is a remarkable mash-up of cajun and Vietnamese flavors popular in Houston. And I love serving a spicy aioli sauce for dipping crawfish and potatoes. For a side dish, napa cabbage slaw adds freshness and crunch to the party. And for dessert, you can't go wrong with Strawberry Almond Cake or Brown Sugar Peach Pie.
Cajun butter sauce for seafood is my favorite all purpose butter sauce. Vietnamese Crawfish Sauce is a remarkable mash-up of cajun and Vietnamese flavors popular in Houston. And I love serving a spicy aioli sauce for dipping crawfish and potatoes.
The spice mix and cajun butter sauce you use will likely contain some level of heat. To dial it up, I recommend adding an extra half teaspoon of cayenne pepper to your butter sauce. Adding additional cajun seasoning to the boil water will dilute the spice, but adding it to the butter sauce will keep it spicy. Making and serving spicy aioli with an extra shot or two of hot sauce would also give you the spicy experience you're looking for at your crawfish boil.
To store, store your cajun butter sauce separate from your crawfish boil ingredients and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
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