Throwing a Backyard Crawfish Boil
It all started with a girl… my girlfriend, to be exact. Brooke is a southern gal from Mississippi who was feeling a bit homesick and lamenting over having to miss crawfish season. I can honestly tell y’all that I’ve never heard her southern accent come out more than when she was reminiscing about backyard crawfish boils and how her and her family would “tear up them crawfish”. Hoping to surprise her, I started doing a bit of research into crawfish joints around Los Angeles. I figured, while it’s not quite the same as being back in Mississippi, I could at least ease a bit of her homesickness. Much to my surprise, I started finding several promising candidates that might have some decent crawfish and a good southern vibe.
As happy chance would have it, right as I was trying to find a good time to surprise her with the date, a coworker of mine posted a video on Facebook called “How to Boil Crawfish Louisiana Style” by Southern Boyz Outdoors. After watching the video, I realized how easy the crawfish part of a crawfish boil actually was. I started to wonder if a backyard crawfish boil was something I might be able to piece together on my own. After some thought, I made the decision and began to put together a plan for a surprise backyard boil. Thankfully, I was able to enlist the services of my girlfriend’s roommate, who is also a Mississippi gal and has some experience in these things. I set up a Facebook event and sent out a few text messages to let everyone know what was going on. My plan was to cover the cost of the crawfish and everything else going into the pot while enlisting the guests to bring everything else… beer, whiskey, chips, Rotel-dip, ice, firewood, etc.
The first big catch with this whole plan was gathering the supplies. Los Angeles isn’t exactly known for it’s abundant supply of cajun cooking goods. Fortunately, it’s 2016 and, as I started checking further into and pricing out all the supplies for a crawfish boil, I found that pretty much everything that wasn’t readily available at my local grocery store I could find on Amazon.com. I picked up a King Kooker Outdoor Boiling Kit (which included a twelve-gallon pot, basket and propane cooker), Zatarain’s Extra Spicy Crawfish, Shrimp & Crab Boil (powder, liquid and packets) and, of course, you can’t forget a good ol’ fashioned Cajun stir paddle! Now, with everything in hand, finding a place to hide all these supplies until the party became an adventure of its own. Let’s just say that keeping the surprise part a surprise ended up requiring some quick maneuvering and the luck of having a girlfriend who was more focused on tidying up my messy apartment than paying attention to what was in the back of the storage closet.
Next step was to source the crawfish. I did some searches on Yelp and I went with a local company in Los Angeles, The New Orleans Fish Market. While I had a good experience and great customer service from The New Orleans Fish Market, I’ve since found that it’s a lot more cost-effective and convenient to go with an online supplier. I ordered my second round of crawfish from Louisiana Crawfish Co. and couldn’t have been happier. Not only is the price per pound cheaper, but you also get bulk discounts and they overnight the crawfish in a cooler directly to your front door. But, how much crawfish to order? Most of my research online pointed anywhere from one to three pounds of crawfish per person. I figured, since the majority of people attending the boil hadn’t experienced crawfish before and several wouldn’t be partaking at all, that somewhere in the neighborhood of two pounds per person would be safe.
Now, as I was having the crawfish boil the day after picking up my delivery, I had to figure out how to store it for a day and a half with minimal loss. Par usual, I turned to the internet and found the answer to be seemingly simple. Fill the bottom of a cooler with ice and leave the plug open to let the water drain. Drop a towel over the ice and dump in all your crawfish. Then, drop another towel over the top of the crawfish and add more ice to the top. Easy, right? Well, as it turns out, fifty pounds of crawfish take up a lot more room than initial appearances would lead you to believe. Half-way through dumping the crawfish, I began to realize that there was no way all of them were going to fit in my Coleman cooler. At this point, the crawfish were starting to come out of their ice-induced comas and get a bit more active. So, I had to rush around grabbing several small coolers to contain a good twenty pounds of remaining crawfish before they decided to scatter out of their cardboard box. Once I got them all contained and iced down, I figured the worst was over and the rest would be smooth sailing. Boy, was I wrong!
Apparently, I didn’t wait quite long enough to make sure all the crawfish were settled and sleeping again under their nice blanket of ice. Because, later that evening as I was taking my dogs out for their PM-BM, I noticed them both sniffing at something. When they suddenly jumped back in what seemed to be surprise, my curiosity was piqued. I walked up to see what they were getting at and found a very defensive escaped crawfish. Now, keep in mind that this wasn’t just a few feet from the cooler. This sucker had managed to climb out and travel all the way from behind my apartment to out front. That’s some decent yardage for a little mudbug y’all. Well, I laughed, shook my head and grabbed the little guy to return him to the cooler. Fortunately, I had my flashlight out. Because, on the way back, I managed to find a good four more. Suffice to say, I had to spend a good hour for crawfish and ended up collecting a good ten escapees. I mean, what’s a crawfish boil without having to catch a few of your own?
The next morning I woke up excited to start my prep work for the boil. I went out back to find what appeared to be a complete massacre. It looked like the results of some medieval crawfish battle… tiny body parts strewn everywhere. In my excitement to get the crawfish sorted in their coolers, I had completely forgotten about the stray cats that roam around our neighborhood. Because I had to leave the top of the cooler cracked, they managed to get inside and enjoy a bit of a fresh feast. Fortunately, because the majority were still under a towel covered in ice, not much damage was done. My only hope is that some of the crawfish got in a few good licks with their pincers before they were turned into cat food.
With the battlefield cleared, I could finally get down to business with the boil. I got the tables set out, the canopies up, country music playin’ and the crawfish into the tub to start purging… thankfully getting ’em out of the beer cooler. About this time, all our friends started ambling their way in… The cooler started filling with beer, the tables started piling up with snacks and everyone started working on a nice little buzz. One of my favorite parts of throwing an event like this is seeing all my different unconnected groups of friends come together for a good time and this event was already shaping up to be perfect. Everyone was willing to help with the rest of the prep including shucking the corn, cutting the onions and lemons and, of course, testing the cornhole boards and beer. With their help, everything was set up in record time and I was actually able to focus on being a half-way decent host.
Now, with the help of her roommate, I’d convinced my girlfriend that we going to see our friend’s band, Tina Michelle and the Rhinestone Cowboys, play at an outdoor event (only a small fib for a good cause). As far as she knew, the plan was to meet at my place and all drive out together. Well, I got the text from her roommate that they were around the corner. My original plan was to have them just roll up to a big party, but everyone there wanted to hide around the corner to surprise her as she walked up. I think that several folks didn’t realize right off that this wasn’t a surprise birthdayparty. Well, suffice to say, she couldn’t have been more surprised or excited when she walked up to find a little bit of home in the middle of Hollywood.
The crawfish boil was officially on and the party started ramping up. The pot was heating up with the Zatarains, onions, lemons garlic and potatoes and once it finally came to a boil, I dumped in the crawfish. It was entertaining watching the split of our friends… those who watched with fascination and those who had to cover their eyes until the top was back on the pot. A few minutes and a beer later, I cranked down the heat and dumped in the fresh corn and an artichoke to cook for a while longer. Then it came time to pull the basket and dump out the crawfish. I’ll tell you one thing… If you can’t tell from that first picture, there’s not a lot of things in this world that look tastier than a pot of crawfish boiled to perfection. Brooke got the chance to teach all the newbies how to peel and eat a crawfish (don’t forget to suck the juice outta that head) and most everyone was willing to give it a try.
Since then, I’ve upped the ante with another crawfish boil and brought out a fantastic American Folk music band, Fair Market Band, that I met at the Hollywood Farmers Market. Many of us got a chance to pick a song or two and perform with this talented group of guys. At both of the boils, everyone seemed to have a great time together eating, dancing, singing, sitting by the bonfire and, yes, throwing back a few shots. I’m hoping that around the same time next year, I’ll be able to go even bigger and better, turning this into a much larger event, but one with the same family feel that were present at these. Did this crawfish boil turn out to be an incredible party? I think so. But, I’ll let the gallery below do the rest of the talking for me.