A Craving for Crayfish: Minnesota Discovers a Louisiana Tradition

Minnesota lakes and ponds have long yielded crayfish to those who set traps. Today, crayfish are also appearing in northern grocery stores as more people realize that cooked crayfish are tasty and healthful. Crayfish resemble lobsters, but are smaller and have narrower claws. Their flavor is similar, but crayfish meat is sweeter and more tender than lobster. It’s also cheaper!

Nutritive Value of Crayfish

Crayfish tails are low in calories and high in nutritive value. A quarter-pound serving of crayfish tails contains only 82 calories, compared to 242 calories of ground beef. Crayfish are a good source of calcium, phosphorous, iron and the B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin). They provide high-quality protein and all the nutrients necessary for good health.

Crayfish are highly digestible. The fibers of crayfish meat are shorter than those of other meat, so crayfish are easier to digest. Crayfish are also relatively low in fat.

Obtaining Crayfish

In Louisiana, crayfish can be bought live or already peeled, fresh or frozen. In Minnesota, you can buy them fresh or frozen in some grocery stores or you can trap your own. It takes about 6 to 7 pounds of live crayfish to yield a pound of peeled tails.

Transporting Crayfish

Do not transport crayfish in water. Place crayfish in a cooler and drain all the water. Tape a frozen gel pack to the inside top of the cooler to keep the crayfish cool in hot weather. Drain occasionally to prevent water from accumulating.

How to Prepare Live Crayfish

Pick through the crayfish and remove any dead ones. Wash the live ones by covering them with water, swishing them around, and pouring the water off. Repeat.

In the meantime, have sufficient water coming to a rolling boil to cover the crayfish. If crayfish are going to be eaten as part of a crayfish boil, place them in the boiling water and cook for ten minutes. Boil them for only five minutes if the meat is to be frozen or used in other dishes. After adding the crayfish, don’t start the timing until the water returns to a boil.

Remove the crayfish from the water and allow them to cool until they can be handled easily. In Cajun country and in Sweden, crayfish are served whole as finger food or picnic fare. If the crayfish are to be used in another recipe, separate the tail from the body. Peel the tail to remove the meat. If you like, devein the tail by removing the fleshy strip that runs along the outside of the curve. On larger crayfish break off the claws, crack them and extract the delicious morsel.

Inside the crayfish head, on either side, are yellow pockets commonly called fat or Cajun butter. Open the head slightly. Using a very small spoon, gently remove the fat and place it in a separate container for use as indicated in crayfish recipes. It has an unmistakable flavor that adds to crayfish dishes.

Freezing

Although cooked crayfish may be frozen whole with good results, most people freeze only the tail meat. The meat should be washed thoroughly in cold water to remove any fat that may turn rancid during frozen storage. Pack in a good freezing container or packaging material and expel as much air as possible. Freeze and use within three months.

Methods of Preparation

Crayfish cooking requires a technique all its own. Short cooking periods and low temperatures are required to retain moisture and prevent toughening of the meat. If cooked too long or at too high a temperature, a tough shrunken product will result.

The following recipes include old favorites as well as new dishes developed by ingenious cooks who love this gourmet food. Because most of these recipes came from Louisiana, we have retained their term for these colorful crustaceans: “crawfish.” The Kraftor recipe, however, is the traditional way Scandinavians enjoy crayfish.

Ammogghio Dip

A Mint-Flavored Dip

  • 1 cup mint leaves, packed
  • ½ head garlic (medium size head)
  • 1-½ cups hot water
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 cup olive oil

Crush mint leaves and garlic together until they are almost in a paste. Place in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Pour hot water over the garlic-mint paste. Add salt and pepper, stir. Close lid tight and let stand for 5 minutes. Add olive oil and shake well to blend.

Use as a dip for dunking boiled crawfish tails. The flavor blend grows steadily as you eat. This dip can also be used for marinating lamb or chicken.

Crawfish Cocktail Dip

3 to 4 pounds large crawfish tails, peeled and cleaned. Simmer cooked crawfish tails in well-salted water 10 to 12 minutes, until tender. Fill bowl with chopped ice and arrange tails over top. Provide toothpicks for handy dipping. Serve with cocktail sauce or serve in individual cocktail glasses for a meal. A good appetizer for receptions and parties.

  • ½ cup chili sauce
  • ½ cup catsup
  • ½ cup horseradish
  • 1-½ teaspoons Worchestershire sauce
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • ½ cup celery, minced fine
  • Pepper sauce or cayenne

Mix ingredients thoroughly.

Crawfish Etouffee

  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups onion, chopped
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced (½ teaspoon)
  • 2 tablespoons green pepper, chopped
  • ¼ cup celery, chopped
  • 1 lb. (2-½ cups) cooked and peeled crawfish meat
  • 1/8 teaspoon red pepper
  • 1-¼ teaspoons salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons green onion tops, chopped fine
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, minced (1 teaspoon dehydrated)

Melt butter in iron skillet or heavy pot. Sauté onions, garlic, green pepper and celery until onions are clear. Add 1/8 cup water and simmer covered until vegetables are tender (about 15 minutes). Add crawfish and other seasonings. Cook 15 minutes. Add green onion tops and parsley and cook 5 minutes for seasoning to blend. Serve with hot steamed rice. Serves 4 to 5 people.

Fried Crawfish Tails

  • 1 egg, beaten
  • ¼ cup evaporated milk
  • ½ teaspoon prepared mustard
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 cup flour
  • ½ cup cornmeal
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 lb. large cooked and peeled crawfish tails

In a bowl beat the egg, add the milk, prepared mustard, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Mix well. In another bowl, sift the flour, cornmeal and baking powder together and stir well to blend ingredients.

Dip the crawfish tails in the egg-milk mixture, one at a time. Let drain a little then dip in cornmeal-flour mixture. Put on a plate until you have enough to fry. Drop in deep hot fat (390-400°F) and cook until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Serve hot with catsup or tartar sauce.

Kraftor

A Swedish way to prepare crayfish.

  • 2 lbs. crayfish, about 25-30
  • 2-½ quarts water
  • Lots of dill, preferably the crowns
  • 1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon coarse salt
  • 1 lump sugar

Combine water, dill, salt and sugar in a very large pot. Cover and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, check crayfish, making sure that all are alive. Rinse under cold water. Drop crayfish into briskly boiling dill-water and cover at once. Bring to boil again and cook 7 minutes from the time the water starts boiling. Let cool in cooking water. Place in refrigerator overnight, still in water. When ready to serve, pour off cooking water and remove soggy dill. Arrange crayfish attractively on a large platter and garnish with crowns of fresh dill.

Serve with hot buttered toast, Swedish spiced caraway cheese, and perhaps with well-chilled aquavit or beer. These, plus a lot of good cheer and songs are vital ingredients for a Swedish crayfish party. Serves 3 to 4 people.

Crawfish Jambalaya

  • 1 lb. (2-½ cups) cooked and peeled crawfish meat
  • ¼ cup crawfish fat (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 2 tablespoons salad oil
  • 1 cup onion, chopped fine
  • 1-½ cups water
  • 2-½ teaspoons salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ cup green onion pepper
  • ½ cup parsley (2 teaspoons dehydrated)
  • ½ cup celery, chopped
  • ½ cup bell pepper, chopped
  • 1-1/8 cups rice-uncooked (long grain)

Brown flour in oil until a golden brown. Add onions. Stir constantly until onions are almost cooked. Add 1-½ cups cold water and simmer for ½ hour. Add crawfish tails and fat; cook until crawfish turns pink. Add about 2 cups less 2 tablespoons water and bring to a boil. When water is rapidly boiling, add remainder of ingredients. Stir to blend and cook on low heat, covered for about ½ hour or until rice is tender. Five minutes before serving, using a 2 prong fork, fluff up jambalaya so rice will have a tendency to fall apart. Serves 4 to 5 people.

Boiled Crawfish

Wash 12 pounds of live crawfish. In the meantime, prepare the boiling water as follows: to a 10-gallon can with a tight-fitting lid add 5 gallons of water. Bring the water to a boil and add:

  • 1 large onion cut into 6 wedges
  • 6 oz. red pepper
  • 2 lemons cut into 4 wedges
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 1 box salt
  • 1 small head of garlic

Put the lid on the can and boil for approximately 15 to 20 minutes to extract the flavors.

Put washed live crawfish into the boiling water. Cover and bring to a boil. When the steam appears around edges of the cover, begin to count cooking time. Cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. The true test for doneness is when the crawfish float to the top of the water. Turn off heat and let soak for 5 minutes longer. Remove a few crawfish and sample. If not seasoned enough, let soak an additional 5 minutes. Lift crawfish from water and serve hot or cold.

To boil more crawfish in the same water, add more seasoning and you are ready to cook the next batch. Twelve pounds of boiled crawfish will serve 6 people.

Soft Shell Crayfish

Thaw soft shell crayfish if frozen. Remove the two calcium deposits (gastroliths), about half the size of a pencil eraser, by cutting through the head just behind the eyes and pressing down on the carapace. The “Cajun pearls,” as they’re called, will pop right out.

First, dip the soft shell crayfish in a mixture of egg white and milk. Then, roll in a mixture of flour, cornmeal, and Cajun spices. Add enough Cajun spices to reach the level of spiciness you like. Seafood seasoning can be substituted for Cajun spices if you prefer less bite to your food. Deep fry for 2 to 3 minutes in hot oil. Drain and serve.

A sauce that can be used to drizzle over fried soft shell crayfish or that can be served on the side as a dipping sauce can be prepared as follows:

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 3 green onions, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon brown mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • ¼ cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons dry sherry
  • ¼ teaspoon white pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup vegetable oil

Place all of the above ingredients except the oil in a food processor or blender. Process for about 30 seconds. With the blender running, add the oil in a thin steady stream. Continue processing until smooth, about 1 minute. Makes about one cup. Recipe from Paul Prudhomme.

Crawfish Creole

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup oil
  • 2 cups onions, chopped
  • 1 cup celery, chopped
  • ½ cup bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 No. 2 can tomatoes
  • 2 small cans tomato paste
  • 6 cups water
  • 3 lbs. cooked and peeled crawfish tails
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Worchestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons green onion tops, chopped

Make a roux by cooking the flour and oil together until a golden brown. Stir constantly. Add onions, celery, bell pepper and half of the garlic. Cook until onion is transparent. Add tomatoes, tomato paste and stir to mix well. Cook for 5 minutes. Add water, bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 1 hour. Add 3 pounds crawfish tails, garlic, red pepper, salt, black pepper and Worchestershire sauce. Simmer for 15 minutes. Add parsley and onion tops and cook 5 minutes longer. Serve over fluffy steamed rice. Serves 10 generously.

Crayfish Boil

Wash 8 pounds of live crayfish. Prepare the boiling water as follows: put 5 gallons of water in a 10-gallon pot. Bring the water to a boil and add:

  • 1 large onion cut into wedges
  • 2 oz. red pepper
  • 2 lemons cut into wedges
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • 1 lb. salt
  • 1 head of garlic, peeled and sectioned

Boil for about 15 minutes to extract the flavors. Add 8 to 10 washed small red potatoes. Return to a boil. After 10 minutes, add 6 ears of sweet corn broken into thirds and the live crayfish. Return to boil and cook for 10 minutes. Crayfish will float to the top of the water when done. Turn off heat and let soak. The longer the soak, the spicier the flavor. Sample potatoes, corn, and crayfish to check flavor. Five minutes is a typical soak time. Remove crayfish, potatoes and corn from water, drain and serve. A basket that fits inside the pot will make removing and draining easier. Serves 4.

To boil another batch in the same water, add more salt and red pepper and repeat the process. Water can be boiled outdoors over an open fire or indoors on the stovetop.

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