In the South, it's not unusual for a party to begin with a very large pot and a wood fire. We're funny that way. Southerners own the art of outdoor cooking, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a livelier example than a crawfish boil. (FYI, if you prefer to use large, sweet Gulf shrimp instead, no one will complain.)
We love a rowdy boil because it's as much an occasion as a meal. The fragrant pot and tumble of ingredients beckon us outside around a table, elbow-to-elbow with friends and fingers dusted with red spice. It's a juicy, loud, messy, and delicious seasonal pleasure—mudbugs are at their best right now.
Tim Byres, one of the smartest young chefs around, gets it. His restaurants, SMOKE and Chicken Scratch (part of a large alfresco space with live music, room for kids to play, and a garden), are devoted to cooking over fire, from-scratch food, and community. We love the funky, rustic edge he's brought to shiny Dallas. And we love his Texas-spin on the boil even more.
Crawfish Boil Recipes
The Crawfish Boil
Chef Tim Byres' boil works great with shrimp too. It's a one-pot meal in itself with spiced potatoes, sausage, and fresh corn, but no one will complain if you also serve a bowl of bracing slaw, bean salad, pitchers of margaritas, and a mile-high Tequila-Key Lime Meringue Pie. Cook the crawfish on the stovetop in two batches for ease. Or, if you have a 10-gal. pot and propane cooker (or wood fire), boil the crawfish outside all in one go. To do so, simply double the first five ingredients and water.
How to Order and Prepare Crawfish
Order direct from lacrawfish.com or cajungrocer.com, and figure on 2 lb. live crawfish per person. To purge crawfish of mud and debris, place them a 48-qt. cooler with a pourable spout. Add cold water and 2 cups salt. Gently stir crawfish; let stand 3 minutes. Open spout, tilt cooler, and rinse crawfish with a steady stream of cold water until water runs clear.
Story Behind the Food
It takes Lone Star conviction to step off the path of star chefs and swanky restaurants to follow your gut. But that's what Tim Byres did when he ditched fine dining for a road trip devoted to fried chicken, barbecue, and handmade food with integrity. "The business started to seem more about valet parking and napkins than community and food," he says. His restaurants and buzz-worthy new book, Smoke: New Firewood Cooking, celebrate both. "The most fulfilling thing I've done as a chef is to strip it back." We love the book's grilling and smoking recipes, inspirational how-to illustrations, and rugged sensibility.