|Now crawfish are freshwater decapods, thus, ten legs. And they are indeed related to lobsters. Now some 500 species can be found worldwide, from Southern Europe to Southeastern Russia, Madagascar, and Australia. Oooh, Tasmania is actually home to a crawfish that grows larger than most lobster. Okay?||
Now North and Central America are home to 340 species, including this Cambarus unestami, I think it is, which I used to stalk here in the chilly streams of Georgia back in my youth. Now when it comes to culinary service, there is but one main species to consider, the red swamp crawfish, which is of course native to ...
... Louisiana. Take a look out there. Most of this state can't decide whether it's land or water, and the bayous, lakes, ponds, and streams around here with their vegetable-rich, slow-moving water and muddy shorelines, are a prefect habitat for crawfish. Now this area below us, this series of ponds, is actually a crawfish farm in Natchitoches parish in Louisiana. This area is not exactly hardcore Cajun. The story of the crawfish, or at least the crawfish's relationship to human beings, is a very Cajun tale indeed.
Once upon a time, the lands now known as the Canadian Maritimes were called
Acadia, and they were home to a large population of French colonists who called
Now in 1713, the French crown ceded most of these lands to England. King George ordered the Acadians to take an oath of allegiance to him or get out! Afraid that taking such an oath would one day force them to take up arms against their fellow countrymen, or the Indian tribes that they had lived alongside for so many years, the Acadians refused the hospitality. England rewarded them by kicking 14,000 people out of their homes, in what became known as "le grand derangement", the great expulsion.
After years of wandering, the remainder of the Acadian people settled in what is now Louisiana, where the word Acadian eventually morphed into "Cajun". According to legend, however, another lesser known exodus took place soon thereafter.
|During their years in Canada, the Acadians formed a tight bond with lobsters, who so missed their human friends after the expulsion that they hauled up out of the surf to follow them. The journey took them years and years, but the lobsters finally caught up. Unfortunately, the endeavor was so grueling, it shrunk the majestic crusties to a fraction of their original size. And that's how we came to have crawfish.||
Legend of the
GUESTS: David McGraw, Owner, LA Crawfish Company
Justin Smith, LA Crawfish Company
Modern crawfish farming is like harvesting any other crop. First, the fields are
prepped. Now in this case, the ponds, which are dry through late summer and fall
when the crawfish burrow into the mud, but flooded in winter. When temperatures
rise in the spring, baited traps are set. The daily harvest begins. Rather than
a tractor or a combine, the job is done via this curious craft, which is
propelled by a large hydraulically powered wheel.
Now today, this contraption is being driven by David McGraw, whose ponds these are. As he pulls and empties the traps, his son-in-law Justin grades the crawfish, passing them through a grate of parallel bars. Anything that slips through escapes to see another day. But anything else goes into a big mesh bag to be washed, chilled, packed, and sent out to a grateful world. Although it's relatively early in the season, some of McGraw's bugs are gigantor. And I'm grateful for the gloves that protect me, at least in part, from their wrath.
Although tail meats are sold separately, as far as I'm concerned, crawfish
should only be purchased whole and alive. That is the way that we are going to
get the most flavor out of them. Now that makes transport something of a
challenge because you have to keep them alive. So what you want to do is you
want to put the mesh bag, whatever size it is, usually 35 to 40 pounds, if you
like that. You're going to want to put that into a cooler. And I like just pure
polystyrene. And you're going to want to cover completely with frozen gel-style
cold packs. Five or six will do the trick. Slap on the lid and do not open it.
Now in this condition, if they are fresh, they'll keep for two to three days. If
you let them.
[narrating, as AB's plane takes off] Although crawfish is as versatile as any crustacean, I'm going to stick with southern tradition by cooking up the spicy mélange known in these parts, simply as a boil.
Native American tribes in Louisiana introduced
the crawfish, as dinner, to the Acadians.
GUEST: Screaming Girl
[at the sink] First thing I like to do when I get my crawfish home is to give
them a nice, cool shower. Since this isn't exactly their native habitat, I would
suggest cooking within just a few hours of receipt, unless, of course, you elect
[at a blackboard] They were probably captured in the act of chowing down, so odds are good that right now your crawfishes G.I. tracts are going to contain some ... stuff. Personally, I don't find this offensive as long as they are thoroughly cooked. But if the idea of squeaky clean insides appeals to you, then a purge might be right up your alley.
Now there are many, many recipes out there that call for just a quick dip in saltwater. Supposedly that's going to make them, I don't know, spontaneously regurgitate everything. All it really does is make them good and mad. Nope, to clean out a crawfish, you have got to soak it in clean water for at least 24 hours. The problem is ...
[back at the sink] ... crawfish are heavy breathers. An armored company such as this could suck all the O2 out of five gallons of water in no time. Now if you put them in something bigger, like say, a kiddie pool ...
SCREAMING GIRL: [in a kiddie pool with crawfish, screaming]
Well, that could get ugly, now couldn't it? Here's a better plan. Get yourself a
cooler in the 54-quart range, make sure that it has a drain plug, fill it
halfway full of water, and then install, that's right, it's a $30 aquarium pump
in the 30 to 80-gallon range, available at your pet store. It won't cost you
more than $30, I promise. [episode written and produced in 2009] Time to move the bugs into the cooler where they will
have plenty of oxygenated water. I suggest you don heavy gloves for this. It
could get painful otherwise.
So here we go. Just gently scoop them right into their little spa. Be sure to miss the little bubble bars there. Just make sure you don't close the lid so hard that you pinch the air hoses. That would kind of fight the purpose here. So, 12 hours, they perk away, then you turn off the pump and you open up the plug, let the water drain into the sink, plug up, re-fill with water, turn the pump back on for another 12 hours. Then of course, you're going to want to wash your sink, because, well, you know.
This whole process, is it really necessary? Okay, your crawfish will definitely be less gritty and yes, they may taste a little sweeter and brighter. But you know what? If you skip the whole process, that's okay by me too. Let's get to some spices.
[at the cupboard] Although I do occasionally steam crawfish unadorned, when it comes to a boil, well, it just wouldn't be a boil without boil seasoning. And although there are plenty on the market, I prefer to make my own. [takes out his container of homemade boil seasoning, which he observes to be empty] Oh, bother. Well, luckily, I keep the recipe right on the jar. All right, let's see.
|Now it may take you a few minutes to gather up all your spices, but assembly will be easy as long as you've got a tablespoon. Now we'll begin with the largest amount, four tablespoons of cayenne pepper. It's a lot of heat, but we'll need it. Then two tablespoons each of paprika and garlic powder. Then one tablespoon each onion powder and dried thyme, dried oregano, dried dill weed, dried mustard.||
4 Tbs. Cayenne Pepper
2 Tbs. Paprika +
1 Tbs. Onion Powder +
1 Tbs. Dried Oregano +
1 Tbs. Dried Mustard
|Then we're going to have to do some grinding. All right, two tablespoons of whole cloves go into your spice grinder—It's just a coffee grinder—along with one and a half tablespoons of whole allspice berries, one tablespoon of black peppercorns—very nice—and one tablespoon also of coriander seeds. There you go. Now just take that for a spin until it's a relatively fine powder, and dump that right into the jar. There.||
2 Tbs. Whole Cloves
1˝ Tbs. Whole Allspice
1 Tbs. Whole Black
1 Tbs. Whole Coriander
|Last but not least, we're going to need six bay leaves, and just roughly crumble those. There you go. And seal up, and give everything a good shake.||6 Bay Leaves|
[back at the cupboard] If you are serious about your boils you may want to double, triple, or even quadruple the batch, in which case, all those tablespoons would become, that's right, quarter cups by volume. Tightly sealed in glass, your spice mixture will maintain full potency for up to three months.
In general, whole spices will last twice as
long as ground, when stored properly.
Although small-scale boils can be performed indoors, if the guest list swells to
double digits—and it always does—we must move out of doors. And that means
employing some specialized hardware. I have here my beefy burner which you may
remember from our fried turkey episode. The connections are sound.
is full. The site, free of flammables. And yet, I still have Old Trusty [fire
Now as for the vessel, you can stick with your turkey frying pot as long as it has at least a 40-quart capacity. We're also going to need a basket to ease extraction of the goodies. Now matched pot-basket sets come in an impressive array of sizes, up to about 80 quarts. They can be found in well-stocked hardware stores, and of course, on that new-fangled World Wide Web thing.
|Okay, now I have five gallons of H2O in the pot ready to go. So we fire the rig, there, and just set your carburetor so that the flames are not yellow, like this, but nice and blue, like this. That's your best-heat, less-soot setting.||5 Gallons Water|
|Now we might as well go ahead and add one pound of kosher salt and your boil mixture. Now that'll give time for the flavors to open up. If you like to make this in big batches, count on three tablespoons per gallon of water. The lid goes on and we prep the software.||1 Pound Kosher Salt|
Crawfish boils became popular after the Depression,
with the birth of the commercial crawfish industry.
|Into to the basket go three pounds of small red boiling potatoes. If any of them are two inches in diameter or bigger, you'll need to cut them in half or they will not cook in time. Next, eight ears of sweet corn broken in half. Two heads worth of garlic, still in the skin, but broken out of the bulb. And if you have it, one pound of andouille sausage. Actually, you could use any garlicky sausage, kielbasa for instance. Make sure it's cut into one-inch pieces so everybody gets some. Now this is actually kind of a hotly debated crawfish boil topic, but I like it. It's like frosting on the crawfish cake.||
3 Pounds Small Red Potatoes
8 Ears Corn, Broken in Half
2 Heads Garlic, Unpeeled But
1 Pound Andouille Sausage
[at the back yard] All right. Obviously, our broth has come to a boil so in go
the groceries. All right, I'm going to put the lid back on and allow these to
cook at high heat for 10 minutes.
[back at the sink] Now during that time, we will drain the crawfish, carefully remove the pump apparati, there we go, and give them one last shower and drain. All right, it is time to go.
PRIEST & WARDEN: [enter in front of the crawfish, as in leading a convict to the electric chair]
You know, it strikes me odd that a country
that downs 28 billion pounds of cow meat a year would be squeamish about sending
a few prehistoric insects to their maker. Now if you saw our
lobster episode, you may remember this
visual aid which clearly illustrates the proximity of the lobster and the
crawfish to the cockroach, on the old tree of life. It's not a very long genetic
trip. And keep in mind, a lot of us pay people to kill cockroaches, okay? End of
lecture. Let's cook.
|Now just dumping them in could result in splashes, and splashes could hurt. So we're going to do this by hand. And of course, we're going to want some kind of protection from all of those little claws. There we go. So just work in handfuls, and get them in as quickly as possible. There we go. If you see any dead ones still in there, just make sure you get them out. There. Now the lid goes back on, and we set our timer for three minutes and three minutes only.||10 Pounds Live Crawfish|
[later] All right, three minutes is up, but these guys are not done. So I'm just
going to turn off the gas completely and set my timer for ten more minutes. The
point here is to allow the crawfish to gently continue cooking. It's also to let
any sediment, shell shards, anything like that to settle down to the bottom.
I'll be back.
[at an outdoor serving table] Newspaper may be the traditional serving surface for a boil, but frankly, I don't want my good times distracted by bad news. And so I just roll out either butcher paper or plain brown craft paper like this. Oh, and speaking of paper, you're also going to need some of these [paper towels]. This is messy business.
All right, how does one munch a crawfish? Well, as long as they're not those big eight-pounders they've got in Tasmania, this is how it goes. Hold the crawfish thusly [holds the crawfish with its head pointed to hand, the tail pointed out]; [with the other hand put] the thumb here [under the tail] and [index] finger here [on top of the tail]. Now push the tail gently into the head and twist out. There. Now this is the part that takes a little bit of practice, okay. You want to pinch the tail and squeeze the meat out the way you'd get the last bit of toothpaste out of the tube. [squeezes and sucks simultaneously] Mmm. Absolutely delicious. But we're not through. That's right, we've got to "suck the head," as they say in the Bayou. Of course, it's not a head, it's a thorax. And the stuff inside it is not actually fat, it's a hepatopancreas, which is ... Well, maybe you should just taste it first, okay? Lift, crush, and suck all at the same time. [demonstrates noisily] Aaah! If it doesn't make a terribly disgusting noise, you're not doing it right. I've got to tell you, that is as good as good eats gets. Tastes like a cross between foie gras and butter. Which makes sense because the organ involved is actually ... Just trust me on this, okay? Oooh, beer's good too.
Don't forget the cooking liquid.
It's great for sipping or for using in soups or sauces.
|Now I realize that there are probably a few flannel-clad Downeasters up in Maine, moaning right now that our boil was nothing but a pygmy lobster bake. And you know what, you'd be right. Only our boil's a whole lot easier to pull off, and not nearly as expensive for those of us who are not lucky enough to actually live in Maine. Of course if you have visited Maine, especially in summertime, you have probably experienced the mythic marriage of lobster and bun known as lobster roll. Well, guess what, crawfish can dance to that tune too.||
[at the refrigerator] Okay, for two nice, big, juicy crawfish rolls, we will
need eight ounces of cooked tail meat, okay? Now I may prefer to buy my bugs
intact and handle the cooking and harvesting duties myself, but quality cooked
tail meats are available. Be on your guard though. Dirt-cheap frozen crawfish
tails are starting to flood American mega-marts from Asia. And I personally will
not eat them for any or all of the following reasons.
One, the sanitation in most of the ponds where the crawfish are raised is iffy at best. And some traces of some very bad things have shown up in testing. Two, the red swamp crawfish is not native to say, China, and when it breaks out of confinement, which it does, with determined regularity, it wreaks havoc on the natural ecosystem. Third, we've got plenty of crawfish right here in America, kids. Yes, they cost a little bit more. Yes, they're worth it.
|[at the countertop] When it comes to dressing, I like to keep things simple. So three tablespoons of good quality mayonnaise go into the bowl. And by good quality I mean homemade, if at all possible. To that we'll add some acid, two teaspoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice. A bit of heat, courtesy of a pinch of cayenne. A bit of kosher salt, again, just a pinch. And about, I don't know, half a grind of black pepper. You can go more if you like. Now whisk to combine. You want it to basically look like kind of like a salad dressing. There, that looks good.||
3 Tbs. Mayonnaise
2 tsp. Freshly Squeezed
Pinch Cayenne Pepper
Pinch Kosher Salt
Pinch Freshly Ground Black
|Now just fold in eight ounces of your crawfish tail meat. And just make sure that that is evenly covered. There. Now if you're a purist, at this point you'll just want to walk away. Just walk away. But if you fancy a little augmentation, I would suggest perhaps a little cut cilantro, or perhaps some finely diced celery, or some finely sliced green onion. Or if you're feeling daring, some diced ripe avocado. Very nice indeed. Or you could just skip it altogether. But you can't skip the bun.||
8 Ounces Cooked Crawfish
[at the toaster oven] Although plain old American hot dogs [buns] are just fine for this application, I actually prefer the New England [hot dog bun] version which have cut sides. And because of that they brown a lot better. So just a couple of minutes, then load up and serve.
Well, I hope we've inspired you to break out of your current crustacean rut, and
get into America's other lobster: the crawfish. They may be small, but these
flavorful and feisty critters are plentiful, sustainable, and easy to handle.
Besides, who's ever heard of sucking a lobster's head? It's just ridiculous.
It should be noted, by the way, that crawfish make interesting, if not loving, aquarium pets [shows one]. Cheap, easy to care for, and if they get just the slightest bit out of hand, good eats.
AB: [to the crawfish] Come, Claude, let's have a walk then.
[shot of a crawfish from Scene 12 on a miniaturized set showing a burning and destroyed Japanese city street, a la Godzilla movies, appropriate sound effects are added]
Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger
Last Edited on 08/27/2010