Crayfish are lobsterlike freshwater crustaceans that are found all over the world; they vary in size from two to eight ounces (0.06 to 0.2 kg). In the South and some western areas of the United States, crayfish, also called crawfish or crawdads, live in freshwater or brackish streams and lakes. Of the 250 species and subspecies living in the United States, the ones commonly eaten range from 3 to 8 inches (7.6 to 20cm) in length. Crayfish meat is mild and succulent, and the shells impart a rich flavor to cooking broth.
The red swamp crayfish, from the Mississippi delta in Louisiana, is the largest native species. White river crayfish, from northern Louisiana, and Pacific crayfish from California and Oregon, are slightly smaller but have a similar taste. Soft-shell crayfish, taken during the molt, can be eaten shell and all, but don?t eat the two hard stones (gastroliths) hidden in the head. Wild or farm-raised crayfish are available live or frozen whole, or you can buy frozen shelled crayfish tail. Soft-shell crayfish are sometimes available.
Buying and storing tips
The freshest crayfish are alive and frisky. To check, stay well out of their claw range, grasp them firmly by the sides, and hold them upside down. Live ones will wiggle.
Put live crayfish in a bowl, cover with wet paper towels, and keep in the refrigerator for no more than 24 hours. Fresh crayfish is best cooked and eaten the same day you buy it, but will keep safely in the refrigerator for up to two days after it is cooked.
To freeze, wrap crayfish meat carefully in freezer paper or plastic, and over-wrap with a plastic bag. Store for up to two months. To thaw, unwrap, place in a bowl or pan and cover and let thaw in refrigerator overnight. To thaw more quickly, wrap crayfish in waterproof plastic and place in a sink with cool running water, allowing about 30 minutes per pound (454g). For fastest thawing, place in a shallow microwave-safe bowl, cover and use the defrost cycle of your microwave allowing three to five minutes per 1/2 pound (227g).
In the South, crayfish are harvested from November to June; on the West Coast, crayfish come on the market from May to October. Crayfish may have to be special-ordered from a fish-market or specialty store.
Preparation, uses, and tips
To clean, spread crayfish out on the counter and remove any dead ones. Put the rest in a colander and spray with cold water to remove any sand or silt.
To remove the crayfish?s sand vein, boil briefly. When cool enough to handle, turn the crayfish stomach up, firmly grasp and twist the tail until it cracks, then gently pull out the vein.
To boil live crayfish, fill a large pan with water and flavorings (herbs, spices, and vegetables, such as carrot, onion, and celery), and bring to a rapid boil. A few at a time, plunge crayfish into boiling water. Reduce heat and simmer until the tail meat is opaque, about six to seven minutes. Serve crayfish in their broth.
To eat crayfish, pinch the sides of the tail until you hear them crunch, pull away the shell, and pick out the meat. For small crayfish, twist off the head and suck the meat out of the shell.
Crayfish, 3 oz. (84.9g) (cooked, moist heat)
Total Fat: 1.02g
*Excellent source of: Selenium (31.2mcg), and Vitamin B12 (1.83mcg)