Crayfish (better known in Louisiana as "crawfish" or "mud bugs") are eaten all over the world. Like other edible crustaceans, only a small portion of the body of a crayfish is edible. In most prepared dishes, such as soups, bisques and étouffées, only the tail portion is served.
10 pounds live crawfish
2 oranges, cut into thick rounds
2 lemons, cut into thick rounds
1 garlic head, cloves separated and peeled
1/4 cup salt
2 tablespoons ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chili powder, preferably homemade
2 teaspoons cayenne
2 bay leaves
8 to 12 small new potatoes
4 ears corn, cut in half
1 pound small boiling onions
Salt, freshly-ground black pepper and cayenne to sprinkle over the crawfish and vegetables
Rinse crawfish well. Put them into a large pot of water and let them sit for about 30 minutes (you can skip this soaking process if the crawfish are farm-raised and purged of mud).
While the crawfish bathe, pour 4 to 5 gallons of water into a large stockpot. Add to it the oranges, lemons, garlic, salt, black pepper, chili powder, cayenne and bay leaves. Bring the water to a boil, and cook the spices 10 to 15 minutes. Add the potatoes, corn and onions. After the liquid returns to a boil, cook the vegetables for 5 minutes.
Drain crawfish from their soaking bath, and ad them to the stockpot. After the liquid again returns to a boil, cook the crawfish for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, cover it, and let the crawfish and vegetables steep in the liquid for 10 minutes. Drain the liquid from the pot.
Serve everything heaped on big platters, with plenty of newspapers on the side to soak up drippings from the peeling and eating, all done with the fingers. Sprinkle salt, pepper, and cayenne over the crawfish and vegetables as you eat, and, after you break off the tails, be sure to suck the fat from the crawfish heads.
Put on a special bib to protect clothing. (Optional, but this allows a little more freedom with the crawfish.)
Hold the crawfish with your left hand and gently twist off the tail.
Take the head and suck the hot, spicy juices out of it (optional, of course).
Squeeze your thumb and forefinger at the sides of the top of the tail, causing the shell to break.
Remove the meat and eat.