Anatomy of a Classic

Crawfish Boil Potato Salad

Potatoes, corn, and crawfish come together in one crowd-pleasing side

photo: Johnny Autry


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.

Johnny Autry

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.” 


Ingredients

  • For the Boil

    • 1 gallon water

    • 1 cup Zatarain's Pro Boil

    • 2 tbsp. kosher salt

    • ¼ cup Crystal hot sauce

    • 2 lemons, halved

    • 1 orange, halved

    • 2 lb. medium red potatoes, cut into quarters

    • 1 intact head of garlic, unpeeled and halved

    • 2 whole artichokes, trimmed and outer leaves removed

    • 2 lb. corn on the cob, husks removed

    • 1 lb. white or portobello mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed

    • 1 lb. green beans, cut into thirds

    • 5 lb. crawfish or 3 lb. of 16- to 20-count unpeeled shrimp

  • For the Dressing

    • 1½ cups Duke's mayonnaise

    • ¼ cup sour cream

    • 2 tbsp. buttermilk

    • 1 tbsp. lemon juice

    • 1 tbsp. Zatarain's Creole Seasoning

    • 1 tbsp. Creole mustard

    • 1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

    • ¼ tsp. salt

    • ¼ tsp. black pepper

    • ½ cup celery, diced

    • ½ cup scallions, sliced thin


Preparation

  1. For the boil, place first 4 ingredients in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over high heat. Squeeze lemons and orange into the water, and toss in the halves, too. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Drop in potatoes and garlic, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, until tender. With a strainer or a slotted spoon, remove potatoes and garlic and set aside on a sheet pan to cool.

  2. Return liquid to a boil and begin to add vegetables. Start with artichokes. After 15 minutes, add corn. After another 10 minutes, add mushrooms. After 5 more minutes, add green beans, and cook for 3 minutes. With a strainer or a slotted spoon, remove vegetables to a sheet pan to cool.

  3. Return liquid to a boil, drop in crawfish, cook for about 4 minutes, then turn off heat and let the pot sit for 20 minutes. (If using shrimp, turn off the heat immediately and let the pot sit for 5 minutes.) Remove crawfish and discard liquid. When crawfish have cooled, peel, remove the tail meat, and chop. (Discard shells.) Chop potatoes into chunks. Cut the corn kernels from the cob. Remove the leaves from the artichokes and chop the hearts into a medium dice, along with the mushrooms and green beans.

  4. For the dressing, place all ingredients except celery and scallions in a large mixing bowl. Squeeze pulp from cooled garlic cloves (as much or as little as desired) and mince. Add to bowl, and whisk to blend. The dressing can be made ahead and kept for up to five days in the refrigerator.

  5. To assemble the salad, place vegetables and crawfish in a large mixing bowl, and toss to mix. Start with ½ cup of dressing and mix, adding more until you reach the desired consistency. (Any leftovers make a tasty dip for crudités.) Add the celery and scallions; taste and season with salt and pepper.

Meet the Chef: Colleen Quarls

Hometown: New Orleans

Kitchen item she’d save if the house caught fire: A big Magnalite pot her mother used for pot roast and red beans when she was growing up.

Favorite music to cook to: Talking Heads, Stevie Wonder, Queen, or David Bowie.


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