With Mardi Gras three weeks away, you might be weighing your options, picking the best in a litter of crawfish boils and parties. Pounds of crawfish spread across tables can, for some, be intimidating. So much work for so little meat, right? And your nails! But, no worries, there are ways to make it well worth it.
Recently, we tracked down Dallas Hale, CEO of Dallas’ very own Shell Shack. He’s made a business of all things that call a shell home. We talked about the best way to attack a mound of crawfish, from what to look for and how to work through a pound like a pro.
When to Crawfish
Generally, crawfish season begins in November, but it really depends on weather. A rainy fall means a better crop in the winter. In the last week of January, Hale noticed a significant increase in the size of the crawfish from the previous week. Typically the season is strong through March.
What to Look For
The first thing to look for is a refrigerated truck dropping off bags of live crawfish every day or two, which I happened to spot on a recent visit to Shell Shack. But, in case you’re not privy to delivery schedules, Hale says the crustaceans should be bright red, and after they're cooked, their tails should be curled in — a straight tail could indicate the crawfish were dead prior to being cooked. (Close your eyes if you're squeamish, but crawfish should be alive as they go into the boiler.) Hale says one or two with straight tails isn’t a problem, but if there are a lot, that’s not a good sign.
Some places, such as Shell Shack, toss the crawfish in a thick roux-like sauce. If a dab lands on your shirt, it’s probably not coming out. So, don’t wear your favorite white shirt, put on a bib and roll your sleeves up so you can dig in.
Pinch the Head Off
With gentle but firm pressure, separate the head from the tail by simply pulling them apart. Toss the head aside. If you want to suck the head, squeeze it just a little and go at it. It's totally a matter of personal preference. Nothing wrong with it: Some people find it too weird, others swear it’s the mark of a real Cajun.
Peel Away the First Two Scales
Find the first two scales that are closest to the head and peel those off. Then pinch the remaining shell with one hand and pull the meat out with the other. So, don’t try to peel off all the scales, just get the first two, then the rest of the meat comes out easily.
Remove the Vein
Now that you have the meat, pull off the top layer that serves as the digestive tract for the crawfish,and toss it aside. It’s gooey. (See photo above.)
Order as You Eat
Hale also recommends ordering one or two pounds at a time, otherwise the crawfish will get cool. As soon as one pound hits the table, order the next.
Check the Claws
During the last week of January, Shell Shack’s crop of crawfish were large enough to be worthy of the work involved in getting the claw meat. Just pull the opposing claw away slowly, while squeezing the rest of the claw and gently pull out the meat.
The hand-washing machine at Shell Shack is a game-changer. It’s a hospital grade contraption that, at first glance, might seem excessive. But, nope. After peeling and dipping a pound or two, you’ll realize how brilliant this is.