Aside from The Boiling Crab, my first true experience eating Louisiana crawfish happened over Memorial Day weekend in the wonderful city of New Orleans (NOLA). We had serendipitously met a young bartender named Lucinda at a restaurant called Sylvain who overheard my desires of attending an authentic NOLA crawfish boil. After a few cocktails and assurance that we were indeed not creepy people, she extended a warm invitation to her restaurant’s crawfish boil which was to be held in the patio of the restaurant for the local bartenders in the city (The Cure, Arnaud’s French 75, Loa, Swizzle Stick Bar, Bar Uncommon). At around 4 pm the next day, Jeni and I showed up at Sylvain not knowing what to expect. It certainly felt as though we were crashing the party, as we didn’t know a single soul. Out of the corner of my eye, we saw Lucinda and approached our sole connection and ticket to this bartender-only affair. We talked a little, grabbed a cocktail and were directed to the very back of the patio. As we walked, we could see hints of red peeking through the people we walked by. And there it was – what we had come here exactly for. On a table were three or four heaping mountains of deep red bugs with the occasional sprinkling of garlic bulbs, corn cobs, onions and halved lemons. At each table side, there were 2-3 people picking at the massacre of crustaceans. We watched how the NOLAns approached the crawfish. Some ripped off the head, sucking out the muddy head juices. Some went straight for the tail and discarded the head and claws. Some just ate the corn and nothing else. With their greasy, spice-stained hands, they would reach for their plastic mugs of beer and wash down the cajun spices. I approached the table and grabbed a few of the largest crawfish I could find. I watched the guy next to me go to work, as he effortlessly removed the head, sucked out the head juices and cracked open the tail – all while laughing and talking. I removed the head and slurped the juices out of the head. There was a nice Cajun spice taste mixed with head matter and Louisiana waters – it was amazing. My lips were ready to fall off from the heavy dosage of Cajun spice, but it was both pleasurable and painful at the same time. It tasted nothing like the ones I had at The Boiling Crab that’s for sure. Sure the crawfish were delicious, but it was all about congregating and gossiping over mud bugs and cheap beer. That humid day in New Orleans with mud bugs and perfect strangers left a lasting impression of NOLA on us. And I couldn’t wait to return here for yet another crawfish boil.
It seems the food gods had read our minds during our returning flight to Los Angeles. That same week, there was a crawfish boil to be held right in Silver Lake, Los Angeles. The boil was being thrown by a comedy troupe in Los Angeles known as Summer of Tears and one of the members (Rob Kerkovich) is the fiancé of our lovely friend, Anjali Prasertong of Delicious Coma and writer for Apartment Therapy’s The Kitchn. Anjali and I actually went to the same high school and crossed paths more than a decade later all through food.
The Summer of Tears crawfish tradition began back in 2007 when boil was thrown for one of the troupe member’s birthdays. The year before they had done an epic cookout for the birthday boy, where they flew in a “turducken” and they all looked at each other and thought, “How does one top a motherfucken’ turducken? Oh! a Crawfish Boil!” And with the exception of 2010, the mass murdering of crustaceans became an annual get-together for the troupe and friends. A Louisiana native by the name of Will Greenberg took the heavy reins as the crawfish cook and has done it every year. The crawfish population has decreased substantially due to these guys. And this year, there were over one hundred people expected to attend this mud bug massacre on a June afternoon. And with over four kegs and country music, sloppiness was more than encouraged.
We showed up in a group of five, hungry and excited to see what was in store for us. We walked down several flights of backyard stairs to reveal that we were a bit too early and too eager. There were a few people dispersed through out the yard chatting away, and no food in sight. But our eyes quickly caught sight of a man with a cowboy hat, red-striped Osh Kosh overalls with no shirt and probably rocking it Commando-style, running back and forth with large green mesh bags filled with crawfish. He looked determined – a man with a mission. This had to be the crawfish killer – Will Greenberg.
The look of a serious cook or a serial killer? What’s the difference when you really just need someone with crazy passion and determination to kill off 120 lbs. of crawfish? If it was an axe instead of the crawfish bag in his hands, we’d probably be fearing our lives. But Captain Crawkill put down the bags when he saw us and welcomed us to the crustacean slaying, directing us to the cold kegs. A jolly transplant from Louisiana, he was the perfect host for a gathering like this. And after you watch his videos, you’ll get an idea of knack for making you laugh and making you feel pretty damn uncomfortable at the same time. (Hint: Football game day, ha.)
120 lb’s of crawfish were shipped overnight from New Orleans and had to be watered down to keep the crawfish alive for the boil.
Aside from the kegs of beer, there was a cooler clearly marked for the ladies. I think I accidentally drank some of the PPD from the wrong cup – and the results weren’t favorable. Nothing happened to Captain Crawkill though when he drank from this since he was rocking it Commando-style.
Will had a large pot boiling on top of a burner for quite a while. A metal strainer was fitted within the pot along with handles for easy extraction of the crawfish. Once everyone started piling in, he went to work. He grabbed one of the crawfish bags and grabbed a pocket knife out to slash an opening. People slowly gathered around as he prepared to drop the first batch. I have to admit I felt a little bad for the mud bugs as I could see them slowly crawling around in their meshy prison, aware of their impending death. Will quickly shook the whole batch into the pot, splashing savory liquid all around – the crowd uttering audible “ooohs”. And just like that, the first batch went in and everybody turned back to what they were doing.
I’m sorry you’re so delicious. Really I am.
Immediately after dropping the crawfish into the pot, Captain Crawkill grabbed a baseball bat and proceeded to push down all the crawfish, making sure they were all submerged.
It took about 25-30 minutes to cook each batch of crawfish. During that time, Will and his cooking crew were seen running back and forth adding corn, mushrooms, onions and other goodies into the cauldron o’ crustaceans. All of that amidst the beer-drinking, loud chatter and random country music.
And finally, the moment everyone was waiting for – the sprawl. Will packed on some oven mitts and lugged the strainer out of the pot. He lifted the strainer over to the dinner table which consisted of two lined-up folding tables. As he walked, the steam from the pot fogged up his glasses and he was forced to walk around with one eye-shut. People started to form around the table as he moved towards the very end of the table. And before he dumped out the crawfish, he yelled, “Is everybody ready?!” Everyone screamed.
He walked backwards and steadily shook out all the goodies in the strainer, making sure that there were enough mud bugs to fill the whole length of the two tables. The deep crimson red crawfish with corn, mushrooms, onions and garlic bulbs sprinkled all over the newspaper matting. As soon as Captain Crawkill dumped out the last crawfish, everyone attacked it like free samples at Costco. I counted nearly 25 people surrounded the tables, with even more people behind them trying to squeeze in. It was beautiful.
Crawfish are simply the perfect conversation starter. We saw that there were a lot of newbies like us, with the seasoned crawfish killers passing down advice on how they like to eat their crawfish. A lot of chatter, a lot of beer flowing and a lot of carcasses.
Within ten minutes, it became slim pickings as you would see people rummaging through the pile of carcasses for anything worth eating. I enjoyed eating the veggies and even ate garlic bulbs and whole onions. I bet the newspaper tasted good too, with all of that crawfish runoff.
Crawfish boils also include a tasty Louisiana staple, red beans and rice. A little speckling of the cajun spice mix over this and you’re golden.
There were quite a few Texans in attendance as one of the troupe member’s is from there. And Texans can’t live without their BBQ. As a bonus, they had delicious brisket shipped from Snow’s BBQ, which was recently ranked Texas Monthly’s #1 BBQ joint in all of Texas. We had the pleasure of eating at Snow’s BBQ and traversing the Texas BBQ trail back in March. This young lady never had to stand for more than 2 minutes before returning back to the kitchen for a refill. It was so good.
For those attending any crawfish boils soon, I thought a quick guide would be handy so no time is wasted. This young lady was a pro and I nicknamed her Lady CrawKilla.
Done and done.
This is Rob Kerkovich, the fiancé of Anjali Prasertong of Delicious Coma, and the only man in Los Angeles worthy of wearing white jeans and matching white suspenders. After about the third round of crawfish, Rob came out with a large flower pot. There was a smirk on his face and knowing the mindset of this guy, knew he was up to something funny, or just plain out weird. Hmm Rob, why such a large pot for 5-6 flowers?!
Rob removed the 5-6 flowers and started digging through the “dirt” with a spatula, to reveal that this was actually a cake. The crowd reacted with a few “oohs” and “aahs”, thankful and relieved that they did not have to in fact eat dirt. So clever Rob! Rob was also willing to share the recipe from his leather bound family recipe tome.
In addition to the justful slaying of hundreds of crawfish, there was some beanbag tossing (sounds weird) and beer flipping.
The soon-to-be Mr. and Mrs. Kerkovich. Dirt pie wedding cake, Rob?
A fun, edible replica of Crawzilla. Love the Red Vines as antennaes!
Anyone wearing a Seersucker suit to a crawfish boil should immediately get first dibs on the crawfish. On the ladies too.
We were the first to arrive and nearly the last to leave. After enduring four rounds of crawfish over the course of 6 hours, I think I’m good for a long time. Many thanks to the Summer of Tears troupe, especially to Will Greenberg and Rob/Anjali for inviting us, what a great event! The food, company and overall vibe were great. I hope that you’ll get to experience a crawfish boil sometime in your life. Thanks for reading.