For some Southerners, spring crawfish boil season presents a challenge. There are so many to attend, for one thing. And often, so much food is left over.
Colleen Quarls, who cooked for New Orleans chefs such as Donald Link before she landed at the quirky sandwich shop Turkey and the Wolf in the sleepy Irish Channel neighborhood, spends a lot of time at crawfish boils. Family members, most of whom live nearby, use the gatherings to celebrate birthdays and holidays. Friends have them just because. Several years ago, Quarls landed on the perfect solution for the remains of the boil: She turns them into potato salad. “This recipe is based on something my family has done for quite a while,” she says. “I’ve just kind of messed with it along the way.”
Her home-cook-friendly version has all the same flavors and ingredients as a good seafood boil—shellfish and vegetables, simmered in highly seasoned water. What exactly goes in the pot can vary, but the standard ingredients don’t usually change: crawfish (although Quarls says shrimp will do as a fine substitution) and potatoes and corn. From there, she likes to toss in artichokes and mushrooms, and thinks green beans make a nice addition. “The tricky thing is all vegetables need different cooking times,” she says.
The potatoes simmer for about forty-five minutes on low heat, so the zip of classic Zatarain’s spices, the brightness of citrus, and a whole head of garlic permeate their flesh. The rest goes fairly quickly, and ends with the star player—crawfish, which absorbs all the flavor that’s built up in the boiling liquid. Then, when everything cools to room temperature, it’s all tossed in a creamy dressing infused with Creole seasoning and the subtle sweetness of cooked garlic.
Think of Quarls’s recipe as a guide and improvise, the way they do in New Orleans. If you or your guests—and this recipe makes plenty, so you will want to have guests—
prefer brussels sprouts or turnips or a few handfuls of snap peas, go for it. “Everybody has their own crawfish boil, and everyone has their own nuances to it,” she says. “That’s the fun part of putting a boil on. It’s kind of what anyone brings or grabs.”