Teaching people to eat crawfish is a hoot, says Kim Tovrea.
“You just give their tails a twist, and when you get to that pinch point, just give them a pull. It’s pretty easy for most people to get the knack of how to get to the meat, but it’s always fun to watch them do it,” says the former New Orleans resident.
Tovrea will likely teach more than a few first-timers how to pinch, peel and eat the freshwater crustaceans at Friday’s Great Cajun Crawfish Boil. The event, held at Kiwanis Park in Tempe, is hosted by the Cajun Cactus Foundation, a group of mostly native Louisianans who now live in Arizona.
About 3,000 pounds of live crawfish will be flown in from The Pelican State for the traditional Louisiana crawfish boil, where crawfish are boiled in water seasoned with onions, lemon halves, red pepper and salt. Often, small red potatoes, sweet corn, onions and other vegetables are boiled and eaten along with the crawfish.
Additional dishes will be provided by Valley Cajun restaurants.
“It’s a real good representation of what you might find at a backyard crawfish boil in New Orleans, where everybody brings a potluck dish,” says Tovrea, president of the nonprofit foundation.
Also on the menu (and included in the ticket price) are: boiled shrimp, fried pickles, green olive coleslaw, Creole potato salad, dirty rice, red beans and rice, smoked sausage, hot links, macaroni and cheese, cobbler, bread pudding and “snoballs,” a New Orleans riff on the snow cone.
The event will offer picnic-table seating and dancing to Cajun and Zydeco music from two deejays with Louisiana roots. Families are encouraged to bring horseshoes, sports balls and other amusements.
A group of friends put together the first Great Cajun Crawfish Boil last year. They’re the same group that hosts the Great Cajun Cook-Off and Food Fest each November in downtown Phoenix.
Crawfish, also known as mud bugs, were historically abundant in swamps and marshes across south Louisiana. Over the years, they came to be farmed in aquaculture operations, and Louisiana now produces 75 million to 105 million pounds of the creatures, more than 90 percent of the country’s domestic crawfish crop, according to the Louisiana Crawfish Promotion and Research Board.
Crawfish boils are a popular tradition in the state.
“Near and far, Louisianans are going to keep this tradition alive. There was a restaurant in Alaska when I lived there that did a boil every year. We’re crazy. It’s just what we do. And we want to share that with people, so they can understand that there’s more to us other than that we talk funny and eat funny things,” says Tovrea.
“There’s something that’s simply infectious for people about Louisiana culture and food. Food is a way of life there. Anytime there’s a death in the family or somebody’s sick, or anytime there’s something to be celebrated, whatever it is — we feed people,” Tovrea says.
As for that myth about sucking out the crawfishes’ brains once you separate their tails from their bodies?
“It’s really the fat that’s in the shell of the body, and it’s so flavorful and so good,” says Tovrea. “At home, I’ll take it out with a butter knife and put it on French bread. It is yummy, let me tell you.”
Online ticket sales to the Great Cajun Crawfish Boil close Tuesday evening, but 200 tickets will be sold Friday at the gate.
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