Apr 9, 201309:15 AM
The Lighter Side
Exploring the humor and peculiarities of the Big Easy
Sacred Archetypes of the Crawfish Boil
Having been in New Orleans for a few years now and after having married a Louisiana native, I've had the privilege of being the guest at many an awesome crawfish boil, as well as having a couple of my own. And after going to a particularly festive boil on Sunday, complete with Doctor Bob-painted crawfish tables, I started thinking of a few patterns I've noticed at these Big Easy spring rituals.
Just as we always have the archetypal "jock", "virgin" and "stoner" in a horror movie, we also tend to have the same kinds of stereotypes at a crawfish boil, though they're a little different. Here are just a few:
In my experience, The Boiler has been exclusively and entirely male. He's "The Dude," the one who is large and in charge and he has taken upon himself a great and daunting task, perhaps the greatest of all crustacean tasks, for all eyes are on him to cook up perfectly seasoned and tasty crawfish with all the fixin's. If he fails, everyone will know about it and probably talk about it for years. Also, all those crawfish that were supposed to be tasty would have died in vain, which is unimaginable to a Louisianian. Yes, the heat is on this guy. I've only been to one crawfish boil where the crawfish were criminally underseasoned and I've vowed never to reveal the identity of the guilty party. Usually, The Boiler is a gracious and affable fellow who just loves to cook and make people happy with his food, but occasionally you can get a boiler who is insufferable in his braggadocio and has a smug feeling of superiority over other boilers. A boiler should be careful to remain "a man of the people" and not let his ego run away with him. Also, we really need to get more women on board here. I have not witnessed one woman as The Boiler and I feel that this is a travesty as some of the best cooks I know are women. It's just that usually where there is fire, there is a circle of men. Which brings us to ...
The Boiler's Minions
These are the pyromaniacs who feel the primordial pull to stand around a heat source, in this case a propane tank. I'm not quite sure why, because you can never really hear anything over the windy sound of crawfish boiling, but one way or another, there is always a group of dudes standing around, beer in hand, trying their best to look as if they're being helpful, which leads us to the one that is being most-decidedly unhelpful ...
This guy always knows everything about anything and he has to tell you all about it. He uses a combination of oranges and lemons instead of just plain ole lemons. Or he tells you that throwing in onions whole is better than cutting them up. Or that you're not using enough salt. Or that the sausage you bought is crap. Or that it's best to boil crawfish when the moon is waxing and you have to dance around the pot three times. Whatever it is, you're doing it wrong when he could be doing it right. This person sucks.
Since I'm a transplant myself and am friends with a lot of transplants, there's usually a virgin in our midst. I have been The Virgin and in many ways am still a novice. Virgins will probably eat a lot more corn (my personal fave) and potatoes than they will crawfish. Most of their time is spent getting into the groove and figuring out what to peel, what to eat, and what to throw away. They'll make faces and they might need some time to build up the nerve to approach the table. When they start peeling, they don't know that the yellow stuff is actually really good and they'll spend too much time trying to fling it off their fingers. They will be grossed out by the "vein" and they'll probably stand around looking really awkward. It's okay. I've been there. Actually, I probably still look pretty awkward because I'm usually the one loading up my tray with corn-on-the-cob and when people look at me weird, I just say, "I like corn. I'm from Ohio."
These are the people who attach themselves to the virgins because they have the perfect peeling technique down and they are just dying to show you. Sometimes they are the exact same people as "The Experts" and are really annoying. Other times they are actually very helpful and cool and patient, though they'll still laugh at you if you put the whole tail in your mouth without peeling it and start crunching away (I say this because I have witnessed it.)
This person has spent the whole time waiting for the crawfish to get done by drinking too many Strawberry Abitas. Drinkers are no longer hungry when the food is ready so they just keep drinking and they usually pass out before the sun goes down.
These poor folks are usually moms with small children who can't enjoy a good crawfish boil because they're spending most of the time peeling crawfish for the kids or cutting up sausage into bite-size pieces. They also make sure to stay sober enough to make sure kids don't start playing around the propane tank, sticking their hands inside coolers full of live crawfish or running into traffic.
These are the people who feel a Darwinian urge to chow down. Survival of the fittest. They make a mad dash to the table as soon as the first batch is dumped out and then grab the best sausage, vegetables and biggest crawfish. They'll knock down children and trample over Grandma. They take this shit seriously. They are here to EAT, damnit.
The "Laissez Bon Temps Roulers"
These are the ones who have got all this down. They like to sit back in their lawn chairs and soak up the sun. They might bring the beer or the ice, but they have no desire to be in charge, they just want to chill and enjoy the day. They usually wait until The First-Responders have dispersed and casually load up their plates with medium-sized crawfish and vegetables ... or they wait until the second or third batch when the crawfish are usually more seasoned and spicier, i.e., better. They pace themselves and enjoy the good conversation.
Most New Orleanians will play several of these roles, and some only one or two. Are you a drinker? A babysitter? Or are you a laid-back attendee?
Whatever you are, I hope you enjoy many awesome and plentiful boils this season. Let the good crawfish times roll.