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How to Eat a Crawfish

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By Sydni Hebert

Photos by Denny Culbert

As someone who was born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, many of my fondest childhood memories are of crawfish boils. In Louisiana, crawfish boils are not simply a creative way to eat a meal; they are a tradition that has been passed down for generations. It’s an all-day event where everyone comes together to eat, drink, and well, be merry!

The concept is rather simple. Crawfish is usually enjoyed outside with people standing around a newspaper-lined table piled high with heaps of freshly boiled crawfish and vegetables. Pair this with an ice-cold beer and you will have the heart of any Cajun.

  Photo By Denny Culbert

You’ve probably heard the saying “pinch the head, suck the tail”. These are, in most basic terms, instructions on how to eat a crawfish. But here are five simple steps from me, “the pro”, that will have you peeling crawfish in seconds. Bring these skills to the next boil you attend, and you’ll be an honorary Cajun in no time!

1. Chill out. You might be slightly intimidated by these mini-lobster-looking things, but I promise they are good. And we Cajuns don’t lie about food. Just think of it as working for your food.

Start by picking a crawfish with a large tail — this is where all the meat is. It’s at the bottom end of the crawfish and should curl up when boiled. You want to avoid flat tails, as many believe this means the crawfish was dead before it was boiled, and therefore you don’t know how fresh it is. The shell should be a bright red color, but darker colors are fine too.

2. Twist. Next, grip the crawfish with two hands- one on the head, and one on the tail and twist them in opposite directions. This will separate the tail from the body. Set it aside.

At this point, you may choose to eat the claws should they be big enough. I personally love the claws because I have the patience to tediously remove the delicate meat. However, most people don’t and simply toss them aside.

3. Suck the head. This is typically the part non-Cajuns have a tough time with, but give it a try — it is the best part! Why? There are spicy juices trapped inside the crawfish just waiting to be sucked out. And if you really want to enjoy crawfish like a true Cajun, stick your pinkie inside the head and scoop out the yellow colored fat, a flavor goldmine.

4. Peel. Grab the tail you separated earlier and pinch towards the back end where the fans are. This should start to push the meat out the other end. Remove the black line. Some people eat it. It won’t kill you but I prefer my tails sans black line.

5. Dip and enjoy. Many people enjoy their freshly peeled tail dipped in “crawfish sauce” atop a saltine cracker. This sauce is typically a mixture of ketchup, mayonnaise, and other spices but recipes vary greatly from person to person. My mom has always made hers with ketchup, mayonnaise, prepared horseradish, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco (recipe below).

Don’t have the luxury of an endless supply of fresh crawfish minutes from your house? Many retailers in Louisiana will actually ship these little buddies right to your front door. My favorite is Tony’s Seafood in Baton Rouge. They have been in business for more than 54 years..

Kara’s (Mom’s) Crawfish Sauce

1 cup mayonnaise
½ cup ketchup
1-2 tbs. prepared horseradish (add more or less depending on tolerance)
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
Tabasco (add to personal heat tolerance)

Combine ingredients in a large boil and serve alongside boiled crawfish, vegetables, and crackers.

My Great Aunt Genevieve Hebert’s Crawfish Pies
Yield: 15-17 3-inch pies

1 lb. crawfish tails, packaged (fresh is best, but you can use frozen tails just defrost before using)
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 stick of margarine (or butter as TLP suggests)
¼ cup green onion, chopped
1 can cream of shrimp soup
1 small can evaporated milk
1 tbs. cornstarch
Salt and cayenne pepper to taste
15-17 3-inch frozen pie shells

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a medium saucepan on medium heat, melt margarine (or butter) and sauté onions until tender. Add soup and stir often.
  3. Mix cornstarch into evaporated milk then add mixture to saucepan. Continue to cook until everything is combined.
  4. Add green onions, crawfish tails, salt, and cayenne. Continue to cook for 10 minutes.
  5. Fill pie shells with approximately 2 heaping tablespoons of crawfish mixture and bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.