That Fish Cray
All month long, we're celebrating the people, places, dishes and traditions that make Southern food so special. Come take a seat at our table.
Jim Gossen has been selling crawfish in the Houston area for almost as long as folks have been eating them. A founding member of Foodways Texas, a sister organization to the Southern Foodways Alliance, and president of Louisiana Foods, which supplies chefs like Bryan Caswell and Chris Shepherd, Gossen is an expert on everything that swims or crawls out of the mud along the Gulf Coast.
For the uninitiated, a crawfish boil can seem a bit intimidating. Folks who grew up twisting shells and sucking heads make it seem like child's play, but many a novice has walked away from the table hungry, their hands covered in spices and their hearts full of regret.
To ensure that doesn't happen to you, here are Gossen's tips for getting down like a pro:
• First, grasp the base of the tail in one hand, the head in the other. Give a little push on the tail, which helps separate it from the head, and then twist it sharply. If you've twisted properly, and the crawfish was cooked properly, the tail should separate cleanly. Just pull it away from the head.
• Next, suck the head. "That's where the flavor from the fat and the seasoning is," Gossen says. Simply put your lips to the cavity at the base of the head, tip the shell upward slightly and slurp.
• Then, take the first ring segment at the end of the tail (the end recently attached to the head) and pull it off, just like removing the ring from the base of a milk jug's lid.
• Push the tail meat from the bottom of the shell and pull it out with your fingers (or teeth) from the top, like squeezing toothpaste from a tube.
Now that you know how to eat the critters, here are a few more tips to make sure the rest of the boil is as smooth as your tail-meat extraction:
• Figure on serving 30 to 35 pounds of crawfish for a small group. "Six people, a sack of crawfish and some beer, and you've got a party," Gossen says. Be sure to have plenty of wet wipes and/or paper towels on hand, too—"You don't want to rub your eyes full of crawfish," Gossen says.
• And remember to relax: Crawfish boils are among the most social of Gulf Coast gatherings. "Normally, when I go to a crawfish boil, we'll sit around eating for two hours. Then we'll stop, boil another sack and eat some more," Gossen says. Boil up a batch of mudbugs, lay out those paper towels and lay in some beer and get to twisting and pulling.
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