Crawfish season started as a trickle this year. Chalk that up to an unusually harsh winter, which slowed mudbug maturation, crimped supplies and drove up prices early on. Lately that trickle has turned into a torrent, however, and this week in particular the floodgates should be wide open for crawfish lovers in New Orleans.
All across town, a string of festive events are out to set records, crown cook-off champions and generally harness the area’s prodigious appetite for crawfish to support a variety of causes and organizations.
The lineup begins Thursday, May 8, with an inaugural restaurant competition called King of Crawfish, which is presented at Generations Hall by the local chapter of the Louisiana Restaurant Association as a fundraiser for its culinary education programs. There will be boiled crawfish on hand, but the focus is on other dishes using crawfish as a main ingredient. Teams representing 20 restaurants around the area from Café Giovanni to Barcadia will compete, and attendees will help pick a winner.
Next up is the Jefferson Chamber’s annual crawfish boil, where there should be plenty of seasoning-stained business cards in circulation. This fundraiser for the Metairie-based chamber of commerce has become one of the most popular networking events for Jefferson Parish businesses and political figures. Held inside a parking garage next to the group’s office, it usually draws 700 people for a feast of 2,000 pounds of boiled crawfish.
While an impressive figure, that’s only a warm-up for the pair of boiling events to follow on Saturday in New Orleans.
The ambitions behind Zatarain’s World’s Largest Crawfish Boil are spelled out in its name. Held in Champions Square, the event doubles as a fundraiser for the local hunger relief group Second Harvest Food Bank and as a celebration of Zatarain’s 125th anniversary. Michael Morse, general manager for the Gretna-based food company, said an army of organizers and volunteers will be ready to serve 25,000 pounds of crawfish, cooked with 1,500 pounds of boil mix.
“We’ll have an 18-wheeler full of crab boil to bring over in the morning,” Morse said.
Event planners were closely watching crawfish prices this spring, and they were relieved to see them dropping recently. But Morse said with a major anniversary for the company on the calendar, they were committed to pulling off the event no matter what. On Saturday, they will be selling crawfish in three-pound servings for $3, a bargain by any standard.
Along the way, they hope to set records for the most crawfish boiled at one event and the highest attendance at a crawfish boil. Officials with the state Department of Agriculture and Forestry will benchmark and authorize whatever records might be achieved, though Morse acknowledged there is a higher purpose to the party.
“We just want a lot of people to come, because at the end of the day, the money we bring in goes to Second Harvest,” he said. “Doing this with crawfish makes it something that’s special to us and this place. Anyone can do a world’s biggest sub or hoagie or whatever. But no one does crawfish like Louisiana, so we need to own these records.”
A different set of bragging rights are on the line Saturday across town at the Crawfish Mambo, a cook-off and music festival at the University of New Orleans Lakefront campus and benefiting the school’s alumni association and professional development programs.
At least 10,000 pounds of crawfish will be dispatched, but the key appeal of the event is the variety on offer as 30 teams vie to stand out and win awards.
“The crawfish here is done in small batches. Each one is different throughout the day,” said Brian Glorioso, an attorney and UNO booster who started the Crawfish Mambo in 2012. “It’s like the boil your dad or uncle cooks in the backyard, but 30 of them.”
Organizers provide the crawfish, while seasoning and all the extras that set a boil apart are up to the teams.
“Each time I find something I never would have thought of, different seasoning, different extracts, the vegetables, everything from Brussels sprouts to pineapple slices,” Glorioso said. “Anything you’ve ever thought of putting in a boil, it will be out there.”
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter, @IanMcNultyNOLA.