Crayfish, or "crawdads" as some prefer to call them, are a freshwater crustacean found commonly in streams, lakes, ponds and waterways throughout the United States. They are very similar in appearance to a lobster, but generally much smaller. Typically, crayfish range from 4 to 12 inches long, they may have fairly large claws, and are very tasty fare!
Crayfish are common throughout the world. I once read that the largest recorded catch of a crayfish was from a stream in Southeast Asia. The animal was 29 inches long, weighed over 25 pounds, and had a claw which measured 5 inches thick, 11 inches high, and 25 inches long! Unfortunately (or fortunately), we don't have any that large in the United States.
In Europe, crayfish are very highly valued as a food. They are also very expensive! In Italy they are known as longastino. It has been said that minestrone is not authentic unless there is a crayfish in the pot. In the south part of the U.S. they are also widely used as food. In other parts of this country, however, they are virtually under utilized as a food source. They are not common in most markets in the U.S.
For those who are inclined to harvest their own, they are very easy to catch. Merely tie a piece of liver on a string and drop it into the water near the bank. The crawdads will come out of hiding and greedily hang on to the liver. Slowly pull the string out of the water and shake the little "bugs" off into a bucket. They will live longer if there is no water in the bucket. Alternately, they tend to crawl out of the water after a rain, and may be picked up along the banks of a stream.
Catching crayfish is an excellent way to keep children occupied on a summer outing to a nearby river or lake. Also, the kids probably don't need a fishing license! Be careful in handling them however, as the claws are sharp and can pierce the skin. Grab them by the back next to the front claws, and they won't be able to reach you to pinch.
Crayfish, as many as you can eat
Pot of water
Salt or "crab boil" seasoning
Dump the crayfish live into a pot of salted or seasoned boiling water. They will turn a bright red color. Allow the water to return to a boil and remove from the heat. Pour off the hot water and snap the tails and claws off. Discard the remainder of the body. Rinse the tails and claws and crack the shells. The meat from the claws may be eaten as is, dipped in butter, or made into a cocktail with the same sauce used for shrimp cocktail.
Once the tails are cooked, they may be used in any number of recipes. They are quite suitable for Chinese style dishes. Try using them in place of shrimp for Shrimp with Lobster Sauce, use them in fried rice, or simply serve the tails with drawn butter as a side dish. The tails may be dipped in batter and deep fried, or used in stir fried vegetable dishes. Sweet and Sour crayfish tails are excellent. In general, treat crayfish like you would shrimp or lobster in cooking.
Yields: many servings
Preparation Time: 10 minutes, unless you catch your own.