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August 29, 2022

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By Layla Khoury-Hanold for Food Network Kitchen

Layla Khoury-Hanold is a contributor at Food Network.

If you’ve ever been invited to a Louisiana crawfish boil for the first time, you know how daunting it might feel to be faced with dismantling a pile of tiny crustaceans. It’s worth learning how to eat crawfish, a delicacy that’s especially popular in Louisiana. For a complete crawfish know-how, we tapped Alex Brennan-Martin, son of Ella Brennan, owner of famed New Orleans restaurant Commander’s Palace. Brennan-Martin also owns and operates Brennan’s of Houston, where peak crawfish season offerings include crawfish enchiladas, crawfish cakes, and crawfish empanadas, plus an annual crawfish boil party in the courtyard.

Crawfish are small freshwater crustaceans that look like small lobsters. They’re also known as crayfish, craydids, crawdads, freshwater lobsters, mudbugs, baybugs or yabbies, depending on the region. Crawfish are found all over the world, but the majority are harvested in Louisiana. Crawfish are typically boiled (or steamed); a crawfish boil is a traditional preparation in which crawfish are boiled in a huge pot of seasoned water alongside new potatoes and ears of corn (sometimes andouille sausage is also added; Brennan prefers to add additional vegetables such as carrots, artichokes, Brussels sprouts or mushrooms).

Crawfish can also be added to gumbo or used to make crawfish bisque. Sautéed crawfish are added to Louisiana specialties such as crawfish étouffée, a rich, flavorful gravy served over rice, or to crawfish bread, where French bread is stuffed with crawfish, cheese and spices and baked till melty. Other examples of crawfish preparations include Crawfish Dressing and Crawfish Fried Rice.

Crawfish are known for having a sweet-leaning flavor profile. “I think they are sweeter than lobster, a bit like blue crab with a sweetness that comes through even after boiling,” Brennan says. “But nothing tastes quite like crawfish.”

Which Part of the Crawfish Are You Supposed to Eat?

According to Brennan, you should eat every part of the crawfish except the shells. “All the meat is in the tail but the fat in the head is delicious. I hate it when I see folks just tossing them,” Brennan says. “I like to pull the meat from the tail with my teeth and a squeeze at the bottom of the tail, then suck the head and eat it all together.”

Should You Suck the Heads?

Yes, you should suck crawfish heads. As Brennan notes, the head contains all the fat, which is often referred to as crawfish butter. Plus, the heads absorb the seasoned, spicy broth as they cook during a crawfish boil, so the heads contain flavorful juices, too.

Step-By-Step Instructions for Eating Boiled Crawfish

Hold the head in one hand and pinch the body just below the head in the other hand, then gently twist and pull in one motion to separate the two.

Step 2: Peel the Tail’s Shell

Just as you would with shrimp, start from the top (head end) and use your thumb to peel back the shell from the flesh until you can get a grip on the meat.

While gripping the meat, pinch the end of the tail with your other hand, and gently wiggle and pull to remove the morsel of edible meat from the shell. For an advanced move, do as Brennan does and squeeze the bottom of the tail and use your teeth to pull the meat from the tail (though he admits this method took him years of practice and thousands of pounds of crawfish to master).

Slowly suck the crawfish butter and spicy juices; lightly pinch the head so that all the juices don’t gush out too quickly. Brennan likes to eat the tail meat and suck the head to experience all the crawfish’s flavors and textures together.

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