Crazy for crawfish

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If you spend enough time in the Junior League Tea Room, you will see – in a chef’s coat – a Junior League institution.

Michael “Chef Mike” Smith has been making Junior League of Houston favorites for over 23 years. His cheer and easygoing Louisiana demeanor make him a favorite with everyone.

Here, we talk with Chef Mike about his favorite season – crawfish season – and share recipes for your own at-home boil.

When did you learn to cook?

My grandmother taught me to bake a cake from scratch when I was about 6 or 7. I was hooked.

Tell us about your grandmother.

Granny was a great lady. She lived in New Orleans and helped raise all of us. She cooked a huge feast for the whole family on Sundays in the summer.

What were the favorite things she cooked for you?

She made delicious smothered okra. Her pie was so good too. And great gumbo – usually with filé [sassafras powder] but sometimes okra.

What were some of your favorite memories of growing up in New Orleans?

Life was simple. If you wanted something, you made it. My older cousins and I would use scooping nets to get our own crawfish when I was 10 or 11. [We were] not able to run to the store to get everything like you can these days.

How often do you get back to your home city?

I try to go every Mardi Gras and maybe once a summer.

CRAWFISH BOIL The peak season for crawfish is March-June. Chef Michael Smith suggests serving it with corn, potatoes, andouille sausage and beer. (Photo: Photo courtesy of the Junior League of Houston)

What makes a great crawfish boil?

Peak season is March, April, May and June. We usually cook about five to six sacks for 100 people. With the crawfish, you have to have corn, potatoes and andouille sausage. And Dos Equis beer. Beer just tastes better with spicy food. I like my crawfish pretty spicy, so I have to cut back on spice for guests. I invited all the League staff to my house for a big boil last year and definitely did cut back for them!

Cooking for a hundred people? That’s a party!

Oh, yes. That’s nothing in New Orleans. You’re in family mode and having a good time, so you’re happy to have anyone come.

Editor’s Note: Also, enjoy crawfish in this Crawfish Pie Filling. For something sweet after a crawfish boil, add this Praline Cheesecake.

Source: March 1, 2019, The Buzz Magazines, Mary Lee Wilkens