Just the scent of a neighborhood crawfish boil is enough to evoke thoughts of springtime for many Louisiana residents. For visitors, eating boiled crawfish is one of the quintessential Louisiana experiences.
That's why when Mallory Barron's Louisiana history professor assigned the class to post a question on The Acadiana Advocate's website regarding something that could be useful to people, she immediately thought about crawfish.
The 20-year-old University of Louisiana at Lafayette student posed a question on the best way to peel boiled crawfish.
"I figured if anyone wasn't from here, that would be a great question," she said.
Barron has her own method for peeling crawfish: Twist off the tail and peel the layers away one by one to reveal the meat.
"And I suck the head, too."
There's no right or wrong way to peel boiled crawfish. For casual dining, Barron's method, like most, suffices. It may not be the fastest way to get to the tasty meat, but it works.
Aimee Boyd Robinson described her process.
"I hold the crawfish flat. Push his tail into his body and twist. Pinch the tail as it comes out and it will grab the yuck out," she said on a Facebook post.
Dan Smith starts by removing the head. "Suck stuff out of head. Put meat sticking out of tail in my mouth, pinching the tail. Pull. Yum."
Another method was provided on Facebook by former Lafayette resident Elizabeth Brooks: "Pinch tail and twist to pull vein out. Pull head off and discard. Pinch to crack remaining shell lengthwise. Then, pull sides out with thumbs and remove shell."
If speed is the end-game, state Rep. Mike Huval, a resident of Breaux Bridge, the Crawfish Capital of the World and home to an annual crawfish festival in May, shared his tips.
Huval, who has won the festival's celebrity crawfish eating contest at least 10 times, was trained before his first competition by Johnny Hebert, owner of Crawfish Town USA in Henderson.
"You grab the head with your left hand and the other side with your right hand. You have to do this quick," he said. "Push the tail just enough and twist to the right at the same time. Then, pull the tail off the head. Place the meat in your mouth and at the same time, you squeeze the end of the tail with your thumb so the meat is released. You pull it out with your teeth. All the meat is out that way."
This method is quick, the champ said. But it has its drawbacks.
"Sometimes I'm swallowing the little legs and part of the shell, too," Huval said. In a contest, though, "You just chew what you put in your mouth and swallow."
Huval reserves this method for contests, not for casual dining with family and friends.
"You're not enjoying the crawfish," he said of the contests. "You're just twisting, pulling and chewing."
And if reading this gave you the envie for hot boiled crawfish, Huval said, "They good right now."
Crawfish are found across the South in warm waters during warm weather seasons, but Louisiana is far and away the biggest producer of crawfish in the nation, with Louisiana commercial crawfish farmers providing 85% of domestically produced crawfish to Louisiana markets and across the nation. The state's annual yield is more than 100 million pounds of crawfish.
The industry employs about 7,000 people directly or indirectly and injects $300 million into the state's economy each year, according to the Louisiana Crawfish Promotion and Research Board.
February to mid-May is the prime time to find fresh, live crawfish. Across the state, there are springtime festivals celebrating crawfish that will offer an opportunity to perfect your peeling technique. Here are a few to choose from:
The 47th Louisiana Crawfish Festival is March 23-36 in Chalmette; the Downtown Lake Charles Crawfish Festival is April 22-23; and the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival is May 5-7.