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Shrimp, crab, and crawfish boils can be found across southern Louisiana. But it is the crawfish boil that is most closely associated with the region. The Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival has been named one of the top 10 food events by USA Today and is a showcase for Cajun music and culture. Major crawfish boils are held by churches and other organizations as fundraisers throughout the spring. Tulane University holds an annual "Crawfest" in April, and the University of New Orleans holds an annual crawfish boil for all students at the end of the spring semester (Students unwinding on Crawfish and Unprecedented Fun—SUCAUF). Smaller events can be found in backyards and parks throughout April, May, and June. Locals traditionally eat crawfish, as well as crabs, without tools such as shell crackers or picks.
One reason for the popularity of crawfish may be price. During the height of the season (late spring) the price may be less than a $1.50/pound retail for live crawfish (2006) with crawfish prices currently being around $.99/pound. Shrimp and crab are higher valued cash crops, and can be a less affordable option for larger groups.
Live Louisiana Crawfish in a "strainer"
A boil is usually done in a large pot (60 to 80 quarts) fitted with a strainer and heated by propane. However, some traditionalists see no need for a strainer and make use of a net or a wire mesh scoop. Seasonings include crab boil packets, cayenne pepper, hot sauce, salt, lemons, and bay leaf. Ears of corn, new potatoes, onions, and heads of garlic are usually included in shrimp and crawfish boils. Some people will add smoked sausage links and/or mushrooms. When cooking crawfish there is a debate over whether or not the crawfish must first be purged by covering them with clear water and a generous amount of salt for a few minutes. Advocates argue that this forces the crawfish to rid their bodies of impurities. Others argue that it does not work and is an unnecessary step. A "Boil Master" is in charge of making sure the ingredients go into the pot in the proper sequence and controls the timing of the steps. There is no right or wrong when seasoning a crawfish boil and many experienced boilers simply go by feel although there are some guidelines to follow and a great deal of opinions on how a boiled crawfish should be seasoned. Many recipes call for a short boil followed by a period of soaking with the heat turned off. The contents of the pot are removed, drained, and then dumped onto a newspaper covered table. Sometimes, crawfish may be dumped into the traditional watercraft in which crawfishermen have historically used to traverse the bayous and swamps; a pirogue. Bottles of hot sauce, lemons and melted butter are usually available, along with cocktail sauce at a shrimp boil. Some families like to use Italian salad dressing or ketchup, or a mixture of both.