the signal crayfish, photo by David Perez
Did you know that crawfish (aka crayfish aka crawdads) live pretty much everywhere in the world? And they are not onIy edible but delicious? I didn’t until last year when some friends turned us onto crawfish trapping. I knew we had them in our lakes and rivers here in the Pacific Northwest, and I knew that crawfish are a big part of Southern cuisine, but for some reason I had never thought to catch and eat them here (seems obvious now!).
So last summer we bought three crawfish traps at our local fishing supply store and headed to a nearby lake to try our luck. We got some fish scraps from the grocery store seafood counter to use as bait and tossed out our traps off the public dock. Within a few minutes we pulled up the trap and we had crawfish! We put them in a bucket and threw the trap back in. We repeated this several times over the course of an hour or two and went home with a decent amount of the critters ( I like to call them “mini lobsters”). We have now tried out several lakes and creeks in the area and we can report that every single one of them is populated with crawfish.
It is so much fun! We let the kids throw the traps out wherever they want and they are just beside themselves with excitement every time they pull them in to check on them. I’m pretty sure they would be happy doing it all day long. I like watching their decision making process when deciding on a location to set their traps and I love how proud they are of themselves when they dump their catch into the bucket to take home. When we eat the crawfish we always thank the kids for catching dinner for us.
If you live near a lake or river, or even a small stream, there is a good chance that it is populated with these freshwater crustaceans. Crawfish live in bodies of freshwater all over the world, from South America to Madagascar to Japan to Australia to Europe. There are big annual crawfish festivals in Scandinavia and Tasmania has a species of crawfish that grows up to 11 pounds!
Our crawfish traps look like two wire mesh wastepaper baskets with their open ends clipped together, and with a funnel at either end for the crawfish to climb into. Most sporting goods stores, like Cabela’s or Sportsman’s Warehouse, will carry some type of crawfish trap, and they can be ordered online as well for as little as $10-$15.
Atticus last summer with a sample of his catch
There are quite a few different ways to prepare crawfish, with the simplest being just steaming them for a few minutes until they are bright red, and dipping the tail and claw meat in melted butter. We usually don’t catch enough crawfish in one day to feed a group of people, so our favorite way to prepare them is to do a Louisiana style crawfish boil, which is where you boil them in a big pot with potatoes, corn on the cob, sausage, and seasonings. This way the crawfish add flavor to the rest of the pot and there is plenty of food for everyone.
Crawfish live in the mud so they tend to be pretty dirty. Put them in a bucket or cooler and cover them with water. Swish the water around and dump it out. Repeat until the water looks clean.
Atticus removes a crawfish from his shirt
Larkyn is really excited about his full pot
Louisiana Style Crawfish Boil
Fill up a large pot a little more than halfway full with water and bring to a boil. Add seasonings. We like to use Zatarain’s Crawfish, Crab and Shrimp Boil, which comes in either a bag or a concentrated liquid (for a large pot Old Bay Seasoning works well too (add most of a tin). Add a couple tablespoons, up to 1/4 cup of salt for a very large pot. Toss in a quartered lemon and a quartered onion. Some optional seasonings are 12 ounces of beer and/or a 1/4 of hot sauce and/or a handful of garlic cloves. Add about a pound or two of small potatoes, 4-6 ears of corn (halved), and a pound of sausage (preferably andouille). Let this all boil for about 10 minutes, then add the crawfish and boil for an additional 3 minutes. Turn the heat off, put the lid on the pot, and let it sit for about 10 more minutes. Drain the water off and serve. The traditional method of serving a crawfish boil is to dump everything onto a newspaper-covered table and let everyone gather around and dig in!
The correct way to eat a crawfish is to rip off its head and suck out the juices, then pull the tail meat out of the shell and eat it. The claw meat is delicious too!
This recipe is very flexible and forgiving, so feel free to add or subtract ingredients based on what you have at hand. If you would like more detailed instruction than what my recipe provides, check out this video. The technique and recipe are a little different from mine, but you get the idea…
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And here is a Crawfish boil recipe from Alton Brown of the Food Network.
If you have don’t have crawfish locally, or you aren’t interested in trapping them, you can order live crawfish from the Louisiana Crawfish Company or the Cajun Grocer.
But I highly recommend trying crawfish trapping, especially if you have kids. It is a great way to spend a lazy afternoon on the water and you come home with free seafood! Can I still call them seafood even though they don’t come from the sea?