IT’S SPRINGTIME IN DENHAM SPRINGS
Where we come from in Michigan, the first sprig of spring green, lights a fire in the guys who can’t wait to pull the the grill out of storage. The true BBQ die-hard builds a tower of charcoal, brings it to smoldering perfection, and throws on some chicken or steaks or brats. A few burned spots add flavor. That’s northern-style backyard BBQ.
But, in Lou’si-anna (as we say down here) if you’re very lucky, springtime involves big pots, strainers, propane cookers and 30 pound bags of wriggling “Mud Bugs.” It’s an EVENT; all caps intentional! And boy, did we get lucky! Our host, Lee Ostten, declares that puttin’ on a genuine crawfish boil is just about his most favorite thing to do, and he is generous enough to share.
Crawfish look like mini lobsters, and the season that usually waits until April, starts very early this year. They musta knowed we was comin’. The later in the season, the closer to lobster-size they become, but nobody seems to care; crawfish is crawfish. Google “Louisiana crawfish boil,” and you’ll get several thousand hits. Like the gumbo, everyone has their own recipe they swear by, but most “boils” include chunks of onion, small red potatoes, mushrooms, sections of sweet corn, lemon halves, hot Cajun sausage, and then the crawfish. Some add fresh green beans. I offer to help cut up vegetables, but am flatly told (almost politely) that this is men’s territory. I don’t mind, I gladly stick to taking pictures.
IT GOES LIKE THIS…
Fill the giant pots with water and bring them to a boil. Settle the strainer in the water, then chunk up and toss in whatever vegetable combinations you want. Pour liquid and/or powder “Boil Seasonings” to taste and stir with your giant paddle that looks like a short handled boat oar.
Get it “rolling” long enough to cook the potatoes, then dump in the live, writhing mass of crawfish that have been washed and “purged.” Bring it to a boil again, cook, then turn off the heat and let them sit for 20-30 minutes.
THE SOCIAL EVENT OF THE SEASON
Backyard “boils” are always social events, and churches, schools and organizations frequently use them as fund raisers. The old admonition about newspapers is: ‘Don’t worry if they write something about you, because tomorrow it’ll be used to cover the bottom of a bird cage’. In Lou’sianna, though, you don’t worry because the papers get saved up in a pile to be used to cover tables for the crawfish boil. And that’s the women’s job – spreading and taping several layers of newspapers on the tables.
Well ok, that and the vegetable shopping and making sure there’s plenty of beverage, dipping sauce and dessert. Since our part’s been done, we gather around the tables and enjoy a good gossip. We all wait for that magical minute when the “Boilmaster” hollers to “pull the chairs back, it’s time!” Sorry, I can’t spell the Cajun yell that goes with it. You’ll have to listen for it on the video!
DUMPING THE STRAINER
He chooses two (young) strong guys to fish out the strainer handle, slip the stir paddle under it, lift and drain and shuffle it quickly to the tables. It’s a two man job as they make their way down its length, dumping piles of steaming red crawfish as they go. Some other regions also enjoy a good Boil, but Louisiana-ians believe their crawfish qualifies as a delicacy like no other.
“I’ve seen grown men squeal their tires to stop and do a turn-around whenever they spot a crawfish boil!” says Pastor Ostten. “Everybody gets excited when it’s crawfish season!” Even Yankees like us and his wife, Miss Roberta.
AND IS IT HOT!
…so spicy hot, some people prefer to wear gloves. But I figure if a former Yankee like Miss Roberta can peel crawfish with her bare fingers, I can too. Besides, you can hear Pastor Ostten pray during his before-the-meal blessing that God will protect these northern Yankees from the hot!
I also get him to stop eating long enough (barely) to give us a good lesson on how to eat these. By the time we’re done peeling and eating all we can eat and peeling the left overs from the third batch, my hands and lips feel like they’ve had a dermatologist’s exfoliating peel. Who cares, I probably needed one anyway. The good news is, I think I may be able to postpone plucking the hair from my upper lip for a couple weeks! Although, I don’t admit this in public. Like I said, who cares? We just found a new kind of DELICIOUS (all caps intentional)!