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Crawfish Boil (print)

A crawfish boil is wrought with anticipation. First, I must wait for the season – the little critters are only available in spring, when they’ve grown to the right size, and the shells have toughened, but before the summer heat would spoil them. Then, I have to poke around town in search a crawfish vendor that isn’t already sold out for weeks in advance. I must also enlist a devoted boil team by begging everyone in the family to contribute their time, money, and labor for a full day’s worth of shopping, chopping, manual labor, drinking, and eating. Once all of these obstacles are overcome, I still have to wait however many days or weeks until the boil itself – whether it be for the perfect weather conditions (the boil must take place outside), a three-day weekend or holiday (it’s preferable to have extra time), or for family to fly back in town (it’s a rare thing, organizing a boil, so we like to have as many friends and family as possible when it finally happens).

By the time the day arrives, I’m so restless and excited, that only a strong 11:00 am mojito can calm me down. At this point, my stepdad Ron is usually already on his way back from picking up the crawfish. In order to do this, he wakes up before dawn and drives with his son to the vendor. There, they fill two full-sized coolers with live, wriggling crawfish. Depending on how many people we’re cooking for, we get anywhere from 35 to 60 pounds of them. Other necessary ingredients include whole 10 pound sacks of lemons, potatoes, corn, garlic, celery, onion, and sausage, as well as giant flavor packets of crawfish seasoning, crab boil, more garlic, and whatever other magical things Ron puts in there when I’m not looking.

My sister and I chop vegetables for hours while Ron prepares the enormous boiler – lighting the burner, filling the tank, and adding methodically each ingredient to the bubbling broth. Family and friends trickle in, and I serve them drinks. Usually at this point, someone puts on some jazz, I have to run out for more rum, and my mom starts trying to fill everyone up on a myriad of cheesy dips and vegetable platters. I’m not fooled. I can wait a little longer.

At this point, the smell of the crawfish is killing everyone. My little brother has even stopped playing video games and come outside, because he senses that it’s almost time to eat. By now, we’ve lined a series of collapsible plastic tables with thick newspaper, brought out folding chairs, and seated ourselves around the table, anxiously waiting to eat.

Finally it’s ready, and the three or four strongest people use the aforementioned wooden sticks to lift the inner cylinder out of the vat (this works kind of like a giant colander, which sifts out the crawfish, veggies, and packets of seasoning from the boiling water). They then carry this over to the arranged tables and pour everything directly onto the newspaper, creating a heaping mound of steaming goodness. We use our hands to scoop the masses of glistening, warm colors down to the edges of the table, and we can already taste the spicy flavors seeping into our nostrils. Savagely, we rip off the heads and peel back the tails, and I put the tiny piece of crustacean in my mouth.

Better than lobster, better than foie gras, better than anything – but not only because of the taste. It’s because of the anticipation, the ritual, the spirit of it. It’s because my mom gets a little tipsy and laughs a lot, because my brother comes out of his room to socialize, because we all have to clean up afterwards together – stomachs stuffed to the brim, lips chapped from the spiciness, fingers raw from peeling. It’s because the almost ceremonial tradition of it means much more to us than any ordinary meal could.

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