It seems as though nowadays, neighbors don’t speak with one another as they used to. Everyone works long hours, there are countless events away from the home, and even to some degree, those (gasp!) electronic distractions, such as the internet, TV, and gaming consoles, all keep us from meeting our neighbors and socializing. My family has, truthfully, fallen victim to this dilemma as well. We always mean to make efforts to get to know everyone, but for some reason or another, we never get around to it. My husband John and I decided that we were missing out on one of life’s many pleasures, as having a relationship with your neighbors can allow friendships to form, can enhance a sense of belonging and safety, and can allow neighbors to share ideas on how to make the neighborhood a better place.
What better way to bring people together than to provide a fun, exciting food event to the neighborhood? It’s crawfish season (which runs from about March until June), and a lot of North Texas residents have not truly experienced a fun, Louisiana tradition: the crawfish boil! When John suggested that we should submit our neighborhood crawfish boil idea for this month’s 24, 24, 24, I was excited. And when Foodbuzz.com selected us, I was ecstatic! We had an excellent opportunity to make our idea come alive!
Once the excitement subsided somewhat, reality set in. How do we pull this off? We had SO much to do! I started to make a list. We needed to reserve the neighborhood park, which is just across the street from our home. It is a perfect place to host a party, as there is a covered pavilion, a playground, a basketball court, and plenty of space. (Thank you, City of Wylie!)
The next big step was to gather some guests. We opted to go door-to-door, handing out flyers and speaking with our neighbors whenever possible. (Next time, we will probably opt to just leave flyers. As much as we liked the “personal touch” of the door-to-door greetings, we didn’t get to visit as many houses as we would have hoped.)
We then needed a game plan on how and where to obtain the crawfish and other necessities. This was a bit more difficult than I had anticipated. There aren’t many groceries that offer live crawfish in this area, so we were limited to locating a specialty company. If you search around the internet, there are numerous companies that claim to deliver the freshest, tastiest crawfish available, straight from Louisiana. How to choose? I decided on going local. A few years back, I introduced myself to a guy in the parking lot of a grocery store that was offering his crawfish boil services, and obtained his card. I kept it, just in case one day I decided to throw a crawfish boil. I’m glad I kept it. I called up David at www.cajuncrawfishco.com, a company based in the Dallas area, and as insanely busy as he was, he took the time to personally discuss with me all of the ins and outs of throwing this crawfish boil, his product, and he worked with me on pricing. He even had tips on how to prepare the crawfish, which we followed with great success…but I’ll get to that in a bit. As for the other “necessities”, such as drinks, plates, and napkins, I made sure I looked at grocery store advertisements to compare prices, and worked to get the most for our money.
John and I made a game plan about who was to do what during the actual event. He was to be the one in charge of the actual cooking(which for those of you that know us or read this blog on a regular basis, I’m usually the “chef”, he’s usually the critic. However, he has a few meals that he is “in charge” of – and boiling crawfish is one of them. There is definitely something to be said for keeping your signature dishes to just a few, because he certainly excelled at this!) I was in charge of playing hostess and making sure I visited with each of our neighbors. We both worked to discuss with people one particular topic – that we wanted to do this every year!
How did everything go? We were very pleased with the event. We had a great turnout, and neighbors got to meet and become acquainted with one another, share a meal together, and enjoy a pleasant evening outdoors. We even had a chance to meet a gentleman running for City Council here in Wylie, which was a pleasant surprise! The neighbors discussed how wonderful it would be to make this an annual neighborhood event, and everyone threw out great ideas on how we could make it even bigger and better for next year. We took down email addresses, so that we can organize together each spring. A lot of positive feedback was received, both about the idea of throwing the event, and about the delicious food, thanks to the direction of Cajun Crawfish Company and John’s excellent preparation. We thought about things that went well, and things that we felt we could improve upon for next time.
I encourage you to throw your own crawfish boil! It was a great amount of fun, and compared to preparing other foods for a large amount of people, it’s relatively simple. We are by no means experts, but part of what made our crawfish boil a success was the advice we received from “experts”. I do have a good list of recommendations on what to do (and what not to do) that I’ll share with you, should you decide to throw your own boil.
-Plan for 2-3 pounds of crawfish per person. If you’re feeding a lot of kids, you can plan for less, but if you’re feeding a lot of “Cajuns”, plan for 5-6 pounds per person.
-Pick up the crawfish the same day as you plan to boil, and keep them cool and wet. We kept them in their sacks and used towels that were dipped in ice water to lay over the top of the sacks, and regularly re-wet the towels in the ice water to keep the crawfish cool.
-Call your city to reserve the park, should you decide to use a city park, so you can be sure you have the space available.
-Shop around for crawfish, and don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions about the crawfish.
-Make a checklist and follow it. This checklist will be your lifesaver as time draws near and you become incredibly busy.
-Buy more drinks and ice than you’ll think you need. We ran out of ice and soft drinks and had to make a run to the store for more, and I estimated about 2 drinks per person.
-If you’re planning to blog about it, take a WHOLE lot of pictures. I became so caught up in talking with neighbors that I didn’t take as many as I’d hoped.
-Have instructions on how to eat crawfish, for those first-timers. See below for instructions!
-Plan for a day of rest afterwards. We’re glad Sunday will be relatively uneventful, as we’re pretty worn out from the party!
-Go hungry! John and I both did not really have time to eat until near the end of the event. We were too busy preparing food, talking with the neighbors, and other “hosting” duties. Of course, when we did have a moment to take a bite, it was well worth it, as those “mud bugs” were good!
-Be afraid to ask for assistance. Thankfully, we had additional family among our guests, and they were very helpful in assisting us carrying items to the park, setting up, preparing food, or even running to the store when we ran out of something. A big thanks to our family, as they really helped make this event successful!
-Overestimate how many potatoes you will need. We ended up with so many leftover potatoes that it’s not even funny. Don’t know what to do with them!
-Be afraid to improvise. Follow a recipe, but if something isn’t working, don’t be afraid to make changes as necessary. We had to change how we were preparing crawfish. We started out cooking 10 pounds at a time, and quickly changed our method to prepare 30 pounds at a time. Those crawfish were going quickly, and we had to feed the crowd!
How to Eat Crawfish
We made handouts for our first-time guests that illustrated, step-by-step, so that everyone could enjoy their “mud bugs”.
1. Grab the head in one hand, and the tail in the other hand.
2. Twist and pull the head and tail apart.
3. Optional: A true “Cajun” will suck the juice out of the crawfish’s head.
4. Throw the head away. Extend and press the bottom of the tail.
5. Grab the meat sticking out of the tail with your teeth.
6. Pull the tail with your teeth, while pressing the bottom with your finger. This will remove the meat from the tail.
7. Chew! Yummy!
8. Repeat as many times as necessary to get your fill.
Alternatively, you can peel the shell from the tail to eat. Of course, this might take longer, and the experienced “Cajuns” might beat you to the next plate of crawfish, so don’t say I didn’t warn you!
And of course, without further delay, the recipe. This recipe is based on Cajun Crawfish Company’s recipe, and produced a consistent, delicious flavor. We started out using two pots, one for boiling and one for soaking/seasoning, but our boiling pot was pretty small, and we changed our method to use the larger of the two pots for both boiling and soaking/seasoning. The following recipe details how to do this with one pot. The one (larger) pot we used was huge – 120 quarts – but you can always scale back the recipe to a third in order to accomodate a smaller pot.
40 quarts water
3 lbs dry seasoning (we used a seasoning blend provided to us by Cajun Crawfish Company, but you can find other seasoning blends. Zatarain’s provides a lot of seafood boil seasoning packets. http://shop.zatarains.com/default.php?categories_id=1406 Most of these blends include salt, cayenne, garlic, onion powder, and other spices)
1 cup concentrated liquid boil seasoning (we used a liquid seasoning provided by Cajun Crawfish Company, but Zatarain’s provides a liquid as well. Most of these liquids have a good deal of clove oil, which smells delicious)
20 silver dollar-sized red potatoes (or if your potatoes are larger, as ours were, cut them into fourths so that they will cook relatively quickly)
30 lbs live crawfish
12 ears sweet corn, broken in half
2 lemons, cut in half
Extra dry seasoning, for sprinkling
Bring water to boil. Add seasonings and mix well. Boil potatoes in pot for about 5 minutes. Add crawfish and corn. Boil an additional 10 minutes. Turn off/down heat and add enough ice to water to bring the temperature down to around 140 degrees. This temperature will allow for optimal soaking/seasoning. Add lemons. Soak for 10-30 minutes, depending on how strong you would like the seasoning. Dump crawfish onto a prepared table, and if desired, sprinkle additional seasoning over, for added flavor and heat.
Enjoy! If you don’t have a huge crowd ready to devour the steaming pile of crawfish (like we did), you can use an empty ice chest to preserve the temperature of the crawfish until they are eaten.
We thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to throw this crawfish boil, and hope to do this every year with our neighbors. I hope that this is only the beginning of a great relationship with our neighbors!