How to Peel Crawfish like a Cajun
So, you've just gotten an invitation to your first crawfish boil. You accepted the invite because you love a good party, especially if piles of shellfish are involved. Then you remember that you've never even seen a crawdad. We at crawfish.com will walk you through the process, so there won't be any awkward moments around the table.
A crawfish boil can get a little on the messy side, so don't wear anything too nice or dressy. Wear something casual, and stay away from very light or dark colors, unless you are the type who considers food stains little badges of honor. Busy prints or Hawaiian shirts are ideal attire for crawfish boils, especially if they contain hues of yellow, orange and brown. You can thank us later. You'll also thank us for reminding you not to say crayfish. That word is for science labs, on a good day. Honestly, the host of the event you've been invited to probably knows what they are doing, and it just isn't proper grammar, even for amateurs. You can however, say "y'all" as much as you want.
Now, let's get you on the way to peeling and eating crawfish like a true Cajun. First, we need to teach you how to hold the crawfish like a pro, for maximum peeling efficiency. Select the one you are going to eat. The pros nonchalantly study the pile and make note of the larger mudbugs. This is usually done while taking a sip of beer, using peripheral vision to spot the big one, and followed by a casual reach without raising any suspicion. If you are right-handed, lightly grip the head section of the body, tail pointed to your left, in your left hand like bicycle handlebars. Don't hold on too tight, that was a metaphor and this just keeps your crawfish steady; the thumb and index finger apply only slight pressure. The curled tail section should be free of this grip. Your left thumb and index finger should rest naturally on either side of the crawfish body, just above where the legs attach. The legs of the crawfish should be pointing downward. Using your right thumb and index finger, grasp the sides of the curled tail, close to where it connects to the body section. That is how to hold a crawfish so you can peel like a pro. If you are left-handed, you are probably used to preferential treatment given to right handed folks when it comes to directions and how-to's.
1. Ask someone what time it is, and write it down because you'll probably forget it later. If you or they don't have anything to write with, tell them to remember the time, and to carry a pen from now on. (*Do step 1 at the beginning of every crawfish boil until you have achieved pro status.)
2. While using the professional Cajun grip as described above, keep your left hand still and twist clockwise, one quarter turn, with your right hand. It's all in the wrist, like using a screwdriver. (Side note: Well-to-do women have been observed deviating from this method by twisting counterclockwise while keeping their pinky finger pointed up to the sky.)
3. The twist is immediately followed by a slight break in one or both wrists while pulling the tail away from the head. This should be accomplished in a single, controlled, fluid motion. Doing this too quickly and forcefully will send spicy juices and bits of shell down your tacky Hawaiian shirt, or worse, on the guy's white, starched oxford shirt next to you (he shoulda read this before). Peeling crawfish tails only requires about the same amount of pressure that it takes to peel a yellow banana, as opposed to a green or brown banana.
**This is normally the part where other "How to peel crawfish" directions give you the option to suck the head. We at crawfish.com are divided on this subject matter, pretty much right down the middle. Half of us suck, while the other half does not include this act in their repertoire. For now, let's get the basics down. There will be plenty of time to master advanced techniques later. For now, toss the head in your discard pile.**
4. With the tail still in between your right thumb and index finger, apply pressure with a brisk pinch to the sides of the shell, as if you were popping a grape or blueberry. This will crush the hard, red tail sections covering the tail, allowing the tailmeat to release with less resistance.
5. With your left thumb and index finger, hold the corner of one or two of the sections of hard, red shell that were closest to the crawfish body, peeling around and away from the tailmeat. This will be a quick circular motion, removing these sections of shell in one piece.
6. Readjust your right hand grip so that the right thumb and index finger are further down the crawfish tail, where the fanned part connects on the end. This is the same grip as before, just back a little more. Apply the same quick pinch here at the base of the tail to allow the tailmeat to release.
7. With either your left hand or your teeth, pull the tail meat from the remaining section of tail. Eat.
8. Repeat steps 2 through 7 about 100 times. It is imperative to remain hydrated, boiled crawfish are spicy and salty. Fluid indulgence is vital to your enjoyment. The actual liquid does not matter; it just has to be cold.
9. Ask someone what time it is. Compare that to the time you wrote down earlier. If you didn't write it down, find the person who you told to remember the time; hopefully they're still next to you. If an hour or more has passed, and you're still at it, having fun without realizing how much time has actually gone by, consider yourself a pro.
With practice, you should be able to notice that although we've broken it down into many elementary steps, it becomes a fluid motion, like knitting a sweater or honing a knife on a steel. It may take up to a minute of awkward fidgeting while ingesting shell pieces on your first few tries, but as your pile of discarded shells grows, your pace improves. True Cajuns can go from start to finish in seconds, seamlessly. They can also put away 5 pounds of mudbugs or more, while putting a serious dent in the contents of a nearby ice chest. But, it's not a contest; it is an experience that involves good people getting together for a good time. Sure, it's more involved than grilling burgers, it's messier than finger sandwiches, and you won't fill up too fast, but that's part of what makes a crawfish boil a special and memorable event. Isn't that why you are going?
**For the squeamish:
For the record, if you're eating mudbugs, you can't be that squeamish. So, if you're the type who "deveins" or only eats "deveined" shrimp, you may want to remove the similar part from the crawfish tail. Ideally, the crawfish were rinsed and purged prior to boiling, so you won't notice it, and this is a non-issue. However, if the crawfish weren't properly handled beforehand, you may notice the dark colored "vein" along the top of the tail after it has been peeled. Sometimes it is covered by a thin flap of meat. Don't worry, there is nothing harmful or funny tasting inside if you forget to remove it before eating. OK, there, we didn't really want to talk about a crustacean's intestinal tract, or mention poop line or the poo-vein, but we did. In the end (no pun intended), we didn't want to be those guys who don't fully disclose to the uninitiated and inexperienced what they are about to ingest. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle. We said poo.
***Absolutely not for the squeamish: How to Suck the Crawfish Head