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In the South, crawfish boils are a time-honored tradition—messy, delicious, and spicy, usually packed with corn, red potatoes, Andouille sausage, garlic, seasonings, and of course, the eponymous red crawfish. However, if you’ve never encountered a boil before, let alone a crawfish, eating the little crustaceans for the first time can be intimidating. What’s the right way to peel them? Are seafood crackers necessary? How can you ensure that you get the most meat out of the shell?
In a recent chat with Food & Wine, Eric Simpkins, co-founder of Atlanta-based Big Citizen (the parent company behind Bon Ton, Miracle on Monroe, and The Lawrence restaurants), shared his tried-and-true method for eating crawfish, which he simply describes as “twist and pull.” He’s had a lot of practice at Bon Ton, which offers Viet-Cajun fare like blackened catfish banh-mi sandwiches and crawfish boiled by the pound, spiced with a secret recipe prepared by his business partner’s mother—not even Simpkins is privy to the close-kept family secret. As the restaurant’s beverage director, he also gave us a few drinks to pair with the crawfish once you get comfortable eating them, from sour beers to frozen coffees. Crawfish boils can be tricky—but with the right technique and cooling drink, you’ll soon be eating with the best of them. Check out his tips and recommendations below.
Step 1: Twist and pull
First, Simpkins says you need to gently twist the tail away from the body, twisting and pulling, “almost kind of rocking the tail out of the main part of the body.”
Step 2: Pinch and suck
This step involves pinching from the bottom of the underside of the crawfish tail, closest to the tail fin, Simpkins says. You pinch there and press up along it, almost like you would with a Fla-Vor-Ice freezer pop, guiding the tail meat out. Then, you gently grip the meat with your teeth to ease the rest of it out. If you’re successful, he says, you’ll get it all out in one try without biting through it or having to peel the tail off the meat.
Take the shot
If you’re feeling daring, another fun method involves taking the head of a crawfish, crushing it, and sucking on it like a shot glass, according to Simpkins. This will get you the innards left in the head, along with leftover boil juices that have a spicy kick.
At Bon-Ton, Simpkins says they love to serve frozen drinks with their crawfish boils, since the latter packs a spicy punch—especially if it’s been cooking all day, and the spices have really intensified.
“We have a Vietnamese frozen Irish coffee that has a handmade ice cream base with brandy, chicory liqueur, Irish whiskey, and lots of sweetened condensed milk,” he says. “The creaminess of that with the temperature really takes out the sting of the boil. And then, even though it doesn’t have cream in it, the fruitiness of our frozen version of a handmade fruit cup or Pimm’s Cup is amazing. We use an in-house made fresh syrup made from passionfruit, strawberries, mango. It’s a beautiful, frozen, light, and refreshing [drink]—another great way to balance out the heat.”
“I think you’re always looking for things that are refreshing, very cold, and acidic to pair with the boil," Simpkins says. “Of course you can’t go wrong with beers. We like to drink a classic, basic pilsner or lager with a crawfish boil. I also think Saisons and fruit-driven sour beers are delicious with it. There are so many great sours out there that work so well.”
“Wine-wise, I think you’re looking for aromatic, off-dry Rieslings and Alsatian-style wines to pair with the heat and the aromatics,” he explains. “Not just the Cajun aromatics, but the Vietnamese aromatics that play with lime and basil. And the other things we add that are a little less traditional to our boil.”