In addition to crawfish, boils can include everything from corn and potatoes to mushrooms and Brussels sprouts. (©Shawn Fink)
It starts in early February along Mardi Gras parade routes, and lingers long into May. You’ll catch a whiff it wafting out of French Quarter bars and bubbling up from backyards in the Bywater. Ahh…the distinctive smell of spicy crawfish permeating the New Orleans springtime air.
By March crawfish season comes to a full boil, with the mighty mudbug taking its annual star turn on area restaurant menus. Locals line up to load up on steaming crawdads fresh from the pot at Melba's, Bevi Seafood Co., Clesi's, NOLA Brewing and Rouses, which served more than 50,000 pounds of them during last year’s French Quarter Festival, where Muriel's crawfish-and-goat cheese crepes are always a crowd pleaser.
Boiled beauties are also devoured at Deanie's, along with fried crawfish tails, crawfish etouffée and crawfish bisque. Elegant Restaurant R'evolution elevates humble mudbugs to fine-dining status with its crawfish-stuffed redfish Napoleon, as does Arnaud's, where they’re baked in a brandy-infused Creole tomato sauce, while Commander's Palace takes the standard croque madame sandwich to a whole new level with crawfish, escargot and crawfish-boiled mozzarella and Gruyeré.
At the tony Ritz-Carlton guests are schooled in the art of the peel (“suck on the crawfish tail while pushing from the bottom, and it comes right out”) by a dedicated “crawfish concierge.” The hotel hosts boils in its courtyard—with live music and champagne—from March through May; call 504.262.5048 for reservations.
Then there are the crawfish fetes that start up in earnest each April and spill into May. Crawfish bread, crawfish pie, crawfish po’ boys, crawfish pizza, crawfish pasta, crawfish eggrolls, crawfish quesadillas, crawfish-smothered catfish; the Louisiana Crawfish Festival in Chalmette offers a taste of it all and then some. There’s even a Crawfish Queen! Hot mudbugs and cold beer is a quintessential combo, which makes the NOLA Crawfish Fest, with its specialty brews, a no-brainer. Sandwiched between Jazzfest weekends, the three-day affair also spotlights a gumbo of local music acts.
The University of New Orleans gets in on the act with the Crawfish Mambo along Lake Pontchartrain, while Tulane University weighs in with its annual Crawfest, which serves up 20,000-plus pounds of freshwater crustaceans at its Uptown campus. True devotees go the distance, making the two-hour trek to the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival, a big-time, small-town affair that draws huge crowds to Cajun country.
Grown men can get as excited as little boys when it comes to crawfish boils. And now kids can safely take part in the adult fun with the Lil Bit Crawfish Boil Set, complete with plastic pot, strainer, stirring paddle, mudbugs, veggies and seasoning. You’ll find them at Dirty Coast, Fleurty Girl and other area gift shops.
’Tis the season, so get out and get peelin’!