Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Dutch Oven Crayfish Boil

Recently, we had one of the most amazing, fun, and delicious family experiences in a long time.  We went Crawdad catching, and then had a Cajun crayfish boil and feast.

Let me interject here, that I don’t really know what to call them:  Crawdads?  Crawfish?  Crayfish?  Mud bugs? Lil’ Lobster Mini-me’s?  I think Crayfish sounds more “dignified” and “crawdad” sounds more bayou.  My kids liked the sound of “crawdad” better, so that’s what we ended up calling them.

Then I faced another difficult problem. Not only did I not know what to call them, I also didn't know how to cook them!  I surfed all over the ‘net looking for advice and recipes.  There was plenty.  Too much, in fact.  Too much contradiction, to be exact.  Everyone said that their way of doing it was the only way of doing it.

Normally, when I encounter that, I just brush it all off as folklore, and do a kind of hybrid of everyone’s recipes.  But the contradictory information was more of the type that scared me.  If you do it this way, then your crawdads will die, and you don’t EVER eat crawdads that died before you killed them!  Don’t do this, don’t do that!  It was all quite frustrating and confusing.

In the end, it all worked out.

Dutch Oven Cajun Crawdad Boil

2x 14” Deep Dutch ovens

A whopping LOT of coals underneath each one.

  • A whole lot (15-20 lbs) live crayfish
  • 1 carton salt
  • A lot of water
  • 1 Tbsp black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp coriander
  • 1 ½ Tbsp cloves
  • 1 ½ Tbsp allspice
  • ¼ lb kosher salt
  • 3 Tbsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp thyme
  • 1 Tbsp oregano
  • 1 Tbsp dry mustard
  • 6 bay leaves, crushed
  • A lot more water
  • 4 onions, sliced
  • 2 heads garlic, broken apart, not peeled
  • 3 jalapenos, sliced
  • 3 lbs potatoes, in 1” sections
  • 8 ears corn, broken in half
  • 1 lb sausage (andouille, or smoked), cut into ½” pieces

I won’t go into the catching, here.  That will go for another time.  In this place, we’ll just talk about the cooking.

I started with the crawdads.  The first thing I did was to “purge” them.  The idea is to make them sick so they purge out their guts before you try to eat them.  I filled up the cooler where I had them stored with water, and shook in about a half of one of those cylindrical cardboard cartons of salt.  Right away, the crawdads reacted, swimming and thrashing around in the water.

I drained it, and then repeated the process.  At the time, I was nervous about killing them, but it turns out that you have to try REALLY HARD to kill them.  Like, dropping them in seasoned, boiling water.  Salt may freak them out, but it doesn’t kill them.  Yet.

Then, I filled it up again, and drained it again, without salt.  I repeated that clean rinsing process again.  Next time, I’m going to do that many, many more times, to clean them more thoroughly.

While, I was doing the “salt, rinse, repeat” thing, I also got out the Dutch ovens, and started up the coals.  Once the coals were basically hot, I put the dutch ovens on and filled them about ¾ of the way with water.  I put the lids on, because water boils better in Dutch ovens with the lids on.  I also knew that it was going to take a long time to boil that much water.

I mixed up the spices, and began cutting the veggies while I waited for the water to boil.  The spices I split into half, and put half in each dutch oven.  I put one head of garlic (broken up) into each pot, and I put two sliced onions in one of the pots.  I suppose i could have done the whole thing with just one Dutch oven, but one of our friends that we had invited over is allergic to onions.  So, my thought was to make one pot without onions, and one with.  The recipe listed above says 4 onions, though, 2 in each pot.  You do it how you want to.

I kept the coals replenished, and as hot as could be.  Before long, the water was simmering, and then boiling.  Once the boil was going, I put in the potatoes, sausage, and corn.  As soon as I did that, of course, it stopped boiling.  I put the lids back on and let it come back up to a good stead boil.  I let it cook until the potatoes were soft enough to eat, and the corn looked bring yellow.

Finally came the moment we’d all been waiting for.  Using my food tongs (not my coal tongs), I started grabbing the crawdads and dropping them into the boiling pots.  I tried to keep them even between the two.  I don’t know that it mattered a whole lot, though.  They turned this rich red/brown almost immediately.  I put the lids back on and let them come back up to a boil for a little bit, mostly to give the spices time to infuse in the meat.  Finally, I used a strainer to scoop out the crawdads, and the corn, potatoes, and sausage.

Traditionally, you serve crawdads poured directly on to a newspaper-covered tabletop.  We actually used dishes.

After only a few, I got the hang of eating them.  I would grab the crawdad tightly between the tail and the shell, and twist the tail off.  I would pinch pretty hard, so as to not get so much of the guts in the body.  Then, I’d crack off the first one or two segments of shell on the tail.  Gripping the end of the tail between my thumb and forefinger, I squeezed while tugging the meat out with my teeth.  I never built up the courage to suck out the head, like some real cajuns do. There’s not much meat in the tail.  Fortunately, that’s why you cook up so many of them!

After every few crawdads, I’d pause and eat a few potatoes, onions, or corn cobs.  Oh, and the sausage.  Those were all delicious.  It was the first time I’d tasted corn that sweet and spicy!

Even though it all tasted delicious, at the end of it all, this was not so much a dish to cook, as it was a whole experience for the family to savor.  It was one that we’ll remember for a very long time!


Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

"The Best From the Black Pot" is done!

It's been a long time since I've posted.  Forgive me.  I've been working really hard to get the first cookbook finished.  But it's now done, and turned in!  Woo Hoo!

We now return you to your regularly scheduled posts of recipes and stories!


Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Big Dutch Oven Steak and Crab Feast

I wanted to do something really, amazingly, phenomenally over-the-top special for our anniversary this year.  It marked 24 years that she hasn’t kicked my sorry butt out on the curb.  That’s cause for celebrations.

I’d seen some videos on how to pan fry steak, and I was really interested in that.  I started to form an idea in my mind about doing the pan fry on steaks with a spice rub.  I figured I would steam some corn on cob, too.  Then, I started thinking, and I figured I could do some of those garlic sliced, sesame seed baked potatoes.  To top it all off, we had some crab’s legs in the freezer, so that would make it great, too!

My wife loves T-bone steaks, so I shopped around, looking for some good, thick, porterhouses.  I did find some, but they weren’t really as thick as I like.

The challenge for me was to cook it all in a limited time frame.  I would be coming home from work by about five, and I would want to have it done when it was still light out.  That only gave me a 2-3 hour window to cook an serve the whole meal.

In my planning, I started out by figuring out how the ovens would work.  I would do the corn and the crab together in the 12” deep dutch oven, and the potatoes and the steaks each in their own 12” shallow dutch oven.  When planning the time, I started from the end, and went through the steps of each dish in my mind, to see when I’d have to start each one.

Dutch Oven Pan-Fry T-Bone Steaks

12” dutch oven
26-30 coals below (pack ‘em in!)

  • 1 Tbsp cumin
  • 1 Tbsp crushed coriander
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp coarse ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp thyme
  • 2 Tbsp paprika
  • 2 Tbsp salt
  • 1 tsp oregano

  • 2-3 T-bone steaks
  • 2-3 cloves minced garlic
  • A little olive oil

  • 1 Cup Cranberry/grape juice (100% juice) at room temperature
  • 1-2 tablespoons flour dissolved in water.

The Potatoes

12” Dutch oven

8-10 coals below
16-18 coals above

  • 4-5 medium to large potatoes
  • 4-5 cloves garlic
  • olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • sesame seeds

Steamed Crab and Corn on the Cob

12” deep dutch oven

~20 coals below

  • 3-4 cobs of corn, chucked, broken in half
  • 2-3 racks of crab’s legs
  • 3-4 cups Water
  • ½ cup lemon juice

Butter Dip/spread for the Crab/Corn

8” dutch oven

10-12 coals below

  • 2 cubes butter
  • extra spice rub

I started out with the thawed steaks.  Actually, I never froze them.  I brought them home a day or so before and put them straight into the fridge.  I mixed up the spices in a zip-top baggie, and then added each steak, one at a time.  I shook the spices all over the steak, and then shook off the excess when I pulled it out.  I did the same with the other two steaks.  By the way, this is the same spice mix that I used for my blackened salmon many years ago.

I set the steaks aside in the fridge, covered in plastic.  It would be about another hour before they’d be cooked.  That gave the flavorings plenty of time to set into the meat.

Then, I started on the potatoes.  Step one was to peel the garlic and slice it into thin slivers.  Then I took the potatoes, and I washed and rinsed them  I cut them almost all the way through in narrow strips, so that it could fan open a little bit.  Then, in every other slice or so, I inserted a sliver of garlic,  I alternated between the middle and the right and left sides, so that it would separate in different and unique ways.  Really, it’s tough to describe this process.  It’s better to look at the picture.  As each potato was sliced and garlic’ed, I put it in the dutch oven.

Once all the potatoes were prepped, I drizzled each one with a bit of olive oil, then sprinkled over them with kosher salt and sesame seeds.  It really makes for an impressive display.  I put that on the coals to bake.

Next to go was the corn and the crab.  I chucked, cleaned, and broke the cobs, and put them on one of those butterfly-ing steamers in the 12” deep dutch oven.  I added the crab on top.  I poured in enough water to reach the bottom of the steamer, and poured in the lemon juice.  I put the lid on, and put it on the coals.

The last step was the steaks.

I began by putting the 12” dutch oven, with just a little oil, on a lot of coals.  I wanted this thing to be seriously hot.  Have lots of coals on the side handy, too, because keeping it hot with the steaks on will also be a challenge.

After heating the dutch oven pan up for a while, I put the steaks on.  The aroma and the sizzle was almost unbearably good.  At first, I kept the lid off.  In retrospect, I would keep the lid on, however, because it took a long time to get the meat up to temperature.  After 6-7 minutes, I flipped the steaks over, and at that point, stuck in the thermometer.  Like I said, it took a while to get them up to even rare, so I ended up putting the lid on, without coals.

When it read just a little under 140, I pulled them off, and put them on a plate, tented under aluminum foil.  Always let meat rest before serving.  By the time we were dining, it came up to a nice medium done-ness.

In the meantime, I poured the cranberry juice into the same dutch oven that the steaks had been in.  While it sizzled, I used a wooden flipper to scrape up all the fond, the bits of cooked steak and carmelized stuff on the bottom.  I had pulled the juice from the fridge, so I think it took a little longer to boil and to start reducing.  I added the flour/water mix a little bit at a time to thicken it up.

While I was doing that, I put the butter and some of the remaining spice mix into the 8” dutch oven over coals to melt and blend.

Finally, it was all done.  We brought it all in, and served it up.  The pan sauce, of course, spread on the steak. It gave sweetness and tang, and blended well with the seasonings and the flavor of the meat. The seasoned butter was spread on the corn as well as used to dip the crab meat.  It was a major, four-star feast!


Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.


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