Crawfish Boil

(Coopersville, MI) — In 2012, we were super excited when good friends invited us to their annual crawfish boil. We’d never been to one and even proposed to contribute dessert. Unfortunately, a sudden ice storm intervened. Our beloved Prius suffered an axle-bending incident on a curvy stretch of highway, and we were forced to cancel our attendance only hours before the event. Now, a year later, we were extended another invite and we were determined to make it count this time...

He Fed:

Suck the head. This phrase gives me pause when it comes to eating shrimp and crawfish. I mean, really? It’s kind of creepy! At least that’s what I used to think, a few years back before I ate things like pig’s tail, lamb liver, cod cheek, and uni. (If you’re not sure what uni is, Google it.) Now, I’m actually looking forward to this ancient and mysterious ritual. Today, I will suck the head.

We drive to Coopersville. The roads are mercifully clear. On the way, we stop by Siciliano’s to pick up some cider and Abita beer. For late March, it’s warm enough to wear shorts. This is going to be a good day. Our friends’ driveway is filled with other guests’ vehicles; the garage is propped open. Steam rises from a boiling pot of water. Everyone looks happy.

I start off with a can of Brewery Vivant’s Big Red Coq, which puts me in the mood for this social gathering. On a nearby table squats a small deep fryer, into which Filipino spring rolls are submerged. A few minutes later, they are rescued, dripping oil, perfectly crispy brown. They are hiding hot death inside, though, so I wait about 10 minutes before venturing to bite into one. Mmm...shredded cabbage, pork, and vegetables. Even better when they’re dipped into spicy-sweet sauce.

Indoors, we snack on bacon coated with brown sugar and chipotle. Yowza! It’s all I can do not to glutton out on pork. I pass on the spiked fruit punch, instead switching gears to Jockamo IPA from Abita. I am allowed a taste test of the gumbo, though, and it is spectacular, with just the right amount of goo from the okra and a well-balanced spice level.

I head back out to the garage to find LettersToJ draining the first batch of crawfish. He dumps them into an insulated styrofoam cooler, then sprinkles them with with Louisiana spices. Steam erupts from the bright red carapaces. My hunger surges. Next, hunks of sweet corn and potatoes are boiled in the broth until fork tender. The dinner bell rings.

Cookie demonstrates how to eat a crawdad with practiced ease. I’m impressed. Thankfully, I watched a few YouTube videos beforehand, so I have some idea how to get at the meat. Each guest is then given their own aluminum pan, wherein they can pile many crawfish and other accoutrements. I pile on about 20 of the critters, some corn, a potato, and spicy sausage. I experience a momentary shudder of uncertainty, but then dive headlong into my first crawfish. I pop and twist the head off, then pinch the tail shell, peeling away three segments. A quick press on the end of the tail and the meat slides out of the shell. It is mouth-wateringly tender, soaked with spices, and mildly sweet. Tentatively, I put the head to my lips and suck out the concentrated juice. It’s not my favorite jus ever, probably because I’m still getting used to it. No matter; I concentrate on the rest of the meal.

Finally, my platter is filled with hollow shells. I wolf down the corn, which burns my lips with seasoning, but I can’t stop eating it. I also grab a bowl of the gumbo to top things off. There is much more crawfish to be had, but I’m already hurting. Who knew those little seafood nibbles could fill me up so fast?

Despite any misgivings I might have had about eating crawfish for the first time, this experience primed me to want more. Can’t wait for the next one! Thanks to our gracious hosts, Cookie and LettersToJ.
She Fed:

When Cookie announces she and LetterToJ will be hosting another crawfish boil in late March, Jeremy and I immediately ink it in the calendar. Just before their 2012 shindig, I had a car accident, causing us to miss it. There were no serious injuries save for a major goose egg, one mangled Prius, and a damaged cream of coconut layer cake intended for the party. So we’ve been hankering for this experience for over a year!

I offer to make a Southern-inspired dessert (because that turned out so well last year?) and land upon a recipe for a modern take on Hummingbird cake. I’ve been fascinated by Hummingbird cakes since I was a little girl. Part banana bread, part carrot cake with cinnamon, crushed pineapple, pecans, and cream cheese frosting...what’s not to love? Legend has it the cake earned its name because it’s so divine, it makes eaters hum with delight. Check out this Southern Living bundt cake version I used, which was very easy and turned out perfectly (though it needed 15 more minutes of baking in my oven).

It’s a warm and sunny day, perfect for an afternoon of foodie fun. One guest brings candied bacon, another a big bowl of (incredibly powerful) rum punch. The Klutsters bring lumpia, a Filipino version of an eggroll filled with meat and veggies. Cookie’s working in the kitchen, putting finishing touches on a big stockpot of gumbo, while the men work in the garage. One deep fryer is crisping up the lumpia and a larger deep fryer filled with water is boiling the crawdaddys. This has got to be the best smelling garage ever!

We all nibble on the lumpia as they emerge from the deep fryer, dunking each end into sweet chile sauce. I was put off when I heard there were green peas in the lumpia, but the filling is so finely ground, there’s no green pea taste. Truth be told, I love these little devils. I scald my fingers a few times snatching them up too soon from the fryer!

The crawdaddys are pulled from the cooker, briefly drained, and poured into a large styrofoam cooler to steam a bit longer. Additional Louisiana spices are sprinkled over them before the lid is closed. Next the redskins go into the pot; time for them to swim in the spices and crawfish juices. Then the Andouille sausage chunks. Corn on the cob is added a bit later.

In no time at all, bowls of steaming crawdaddys, cob corn, sausage, and redskins parade in from the garage while heavy-duty foil rimmed cookie sheets are passed around. Somehow, Cookie’s found time to make some biscuits and there are bowls waiting to be filled with bubbling gumbo. She gives us a brief tutorial on how to eat the crawfish, confirming sucking the head is optional. We pile up our “plates” and find a seat. Just like Cookie demonstrated, I peel a few tail sections off and pinch the tail which causes the tender white meat to pop right out. It’s buttery and sweet. Not what I expected from something nicknamed “mudbug”! There’s no silverware; you eat it all, save for the gumbo, with your hands. (Someone warns the group to not scratch their eyes with their hands. Someone else says “careful with anything you touch tonight.” Read into that what you want.)

My lips are on fire, my tummy is full, and I am in awe of the gastronomical adventure our pals just provided. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

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