Most years, the bacchanalia that marks the beginning of Lent also roughly coincides with the kickoff of crawfish season. However, 2011 marks the latest Mardi Gras in more the 150 years. That means this year’s crawdad crop has had some time to grow before it hits its peak of popularity in the coming weeks.

For the uninitiated, crawfish can present a challenge in both preparation and eating, but in truth, neither is very difficult. During Lent, a “boil” is the preferred way to indulge in the clawed Cajun delicacy. This is as simple as it sounds: Live crawfish are dunked in a pot full of boiling water to which a special blend of spices has been added. Typically, the pot (or an accompanying pot) is also filled with corn on the cob, potatoes, and Cajun sausage.

There are many crawfish, or seafood, boil seasonings on the market with Old Bay among the most popular. Any of them will do, but if you’re feeling adventurous, I’d suggest making up your own. Just be sure to include plenty of salt and cayenne pepper. Coriander, dry mustard or mustard seeds, and Tellicherry red pepper also make a great boil. You’ll know you got the right amount of spice when your fingertips go numb as you’re shelling and sucking.

Speaking of which, there are a few schools of crawfish eating. Purists claim you have to suck the head, which holds a flavorful blend of fat and spicy liquid. Whether you go that far or not is up to you, but above is a good video tutorial on tackling your first crawdaddy.

Good luck and Laissez les bon temps rouler!