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Have you ever eaten Cajun food at a restaurant? If so, chances are good that you saw crawfish on the menu. However, you might have wondered exactly what crawfish is. Just as important, you probably wanted to know what crawfish tasted like before you ordered it.
Most people consider crawfish to have a flavor that’s a cross between lobster and shrimp. You’ll notice sweet and salty notes and perhaps even a hint of mineral. Flavor experience may vary depending upon how the crawfish was prepared and which part of the animal you are enjoying.
To many people, crawfish is an incredible delicacy that they can’t resist. You might be one of those people, but you won’t know for certain until you try crawfish.
Let’s dive into what crawfish is, what they taste like and how to eat them.
- What Are Crawfish?
- What Do Crawfish Taste Like?
- How Do You Eat a Crawfish?
- How to Cook Crawfish
- How Are Crawfish Harvested?
- Where Can You Buy Crawfish?
- How Do You Store Crawfish?
- Are You Ready to Try Crawfish?
What Are Crawfish?
Crawfish are small crustaceans that may go by many alternative names such as:
Regardless of what they are called, they are all the same or similar small crustaceans that lives in fresh water. There are approximately 500 subspecies of these creatures. Usually, they are found in marshes, lakes and rivers. The average crawfish is between three and six inches long and has ten legs for walking and swimming. The two front legs also are large claws, something that the crawfish shares with crabs and lobsters.
In fact, crawfish look a great deal like really small lobsters. They have hard exoskeletons to protect them, and their segmented bodies may be red, green, dark brown or even sandy yellow.
Crawfish are fairly adept at hiding themselves in lakes and streams, which means that they must be found beneath logs or rocks. Most active at night, the crawfish eats a variety of items such as amphibian tadpoles, worms and insect larvae.
However, most people are more interested in eating crawfish than they are in what the crawfish eats.
What Do Crawfish Taste Like?
Most people who eat a great deal of seafood and shellfish are likely to describe the taste of crawfish as a cross between shrimp and lobsters. This is because crawfish tends to be slightly sweet, but people may also notice salty flavors and perhaps a hint of mineral. In fact, the taste of crawfish can vary depending upon numerous factors such as where the crawfish was harvested, which part of the crawfish you are eating and how the dish has been prepared.
The crawfish consists of many edible parts. These include the legs, tails, claws, roe, outer shell and tomalley. For most people, it is the legs, tails and claws that are the most highly sought-after components of the crawfish. These parts are where you’ll find most of the meat. Meat from the claws tends to be sweet and mild with a smooth texture while the tail is thicker and can be tougher to chew. Although the tails seem hearty, there is a mere 82 calories in a quarter pound of them.
How Do You Eat a Crawfish?
Eating crawfish can seem intimidating, especially since one of the most common ways to prepare them is to boil or steam them whole. This leaves diners with the task of determining how to eat a whole crawfish.
The good news is that the job is probably easier and more straightforward than you imagine. Here is a step-by-step guide.
1. Grasp the crawfish with your thumb on one side of the tail joint and your index finger on the opposite side.
2. With a swift twist, snap the head from the tail.
3. If you would like, this is your opportunity to suck the yellow substance known as “crawfish butter” from the head of the crawfish. Some people are reluctant to take this step, but others consider the butter an absolute treat. Try it yourself to see if you like it.
4. Set aside the head and peel the shell away with your thumbs. Work from the widest part of the crawfish’s tail, just as you would peel shrimp.
5. Hold the tail in one hand and tug out the tail meat with the other.
You might feel a bit awkward as you sit down to eat your first crawfish, but chances are good that you’ll be hooked from the first taste. Soon, you’ll be twisting off the head, peeling away the shell and removing the tail meat like a pro.
How to Cook Crawfish
Once considered a staple food for the poor or prisoners, crawfish is now recognized as a delicacy that is enjoyed around the globe. Accordingly, there are endless ways in which this dish might be prepared.
Sometimes, the simplest methods are the best. These typically involve either boiling or steaming the crawfish, processes that are begun while the creatures are still alive. Cooking dead crawfish generally is not a good idea as it can be horribly stinky. Moreover, eating crawfish that were dead when you started cooking them actually can result in food poisoning if you’re not exceptionally careful.
To boil crawfish, just bring a large pot of water to boil on a stovetop. Place the crawfish in a cooking basket and lower the basket into the boiling water. Immerse the crawfish for approximately 15 minutes, then turn off the burner. Allow the crawfish to sit in the cooling water for an additional 15 minutes. The crustaceans are now ready to be put on a plate and enjoyed.
Crawfish prepared in the traditional way are sprinkled with Cajun seasoning. This is typically a combination of oregano, garlic, cayenne pepper, paprika and other seasonings.
Some cooks prefer to prepare a crawfish boil that involves ingredients such as lemon, garlic, butter, vinegar and salt. Many of these recipes involve two large pots, one in which the crawfish are boiled and another in which they are soaked with the other ingredients. In addition to the crawfish, these meals involve numerous side dishes such as smoked sausage, corn on the cob and potatoes with garlic and onions.
Many variations on these recipes are found online. Be sure to notice that some of these are called Texas crawfish boil or Louisiana crawfish boil. It’s worthwhile trying out several of these recipes so that you can get a better feel for which preparation method you prefer.
Of course, people do not always serve whole crawfish at meals. The crawfish can be part of another dish, such as jambalaya. Recipes for jambalaya may include shrimp as well as crawfish in addition to spicy sausage, a variety of vegetables, chicken stock, rice and herbs. This dish can be as spicy as you like to make it an authentic New Orleans treat.
How Are Crawfish Harvested?
Some crawfish are grown on farms in a fascinating process that involves rice fields. Essentially, farmers plant a crop of rice in March or April. Rice grows in two inches of water, and by June, these fields resemble grasslands. The rice is now thick and tall enough to form a cooling canopy over the water. Now is the time that farmers seed the rice fields with crawfish.
As the summer continues, ambient temperatures rise. The crawfish follow their instincts to stay cool, leading them to dig and construct underground burrows. Before July ends, the rice fields are drained and the farmers harvest the rice with a combine. The crawfish remain safely underground in their burrows.
With sufficient rainfall, the crawfish can survive quite easily. Farmers may need to pump in additional water to ensure that the crawfish have ideal conditions for reproduction. The crawfish eat the stalks from the rice crop, enhancing the sweet flavor of the crustaceans. The arrival of fall means lower temperatures, drawing the crawfish out of their burrows. Females may have hundreds of eggs massed on their tails.
The harvest season may begin anywhere from November through February and continue through most of June. A crawfish boat, specially designed for harvesting, is essential to the task. Farmers actually use bait to capture their prey as quickly as they can before rising temperatures force the crawfish back underground.
Outside of a farm setting, crawfish may be collected in bodies of water using baited traps.
Where Can You Buy Crawfish?
Some people are fortunate enough to have a convenient lake or stream from which they can harvest fresh crawfish, but that is not the reality for most people.
Estimates suggest that approximately 95 percent of all crawfish in the U.S. is harvested in Louisiana. Spring is peak harvest season, so this is when crawfish are most abundant. If you live in Louisiana and surrounding states, you may be fortunate enough to find fresh, live crawfish in the seafood section of your grocery store.
Those who live in more distant locales will find several online stores through which it is possible to purchase live crawfish. Your order is packed in ice and shipped out to you overnight. This provides you with the opportunity to enjoy a fresh crawfish boil regardless of where you live.
Take a look at the seafood section in your grocery store to see if they stock frozen crawdad tails. This can be a convenient shortcut to enjoying crawfish in jambalaya or another dish. You don’t have to worry about transporting live animals, and most of the hard work has already been done for you. Of course, purists will probably be less than thrilled with the flavor and texture of frozen crawfish, and this may not be the best method to choose for your first crawfish tasting experience.
If you’re serious about testing crawfish to see if it is a food that you enjoy, it makes sense to sample it while on vacation in the American southeast. Otherwise, you may want to prepare fresh, live crawfish in your kitchen at home.
How Do You Store Crawfish?
If you buy crawfish that is already frozen, make sure that you keep it in the freezer until you are ready to prepare and eat it. It’s never advisable to defrost crawfish and then freeze it again as this can have a negative impact on the texture and flavor of the meat.
Orders of live crawfish can be kept in an open bucket filled with water until you’re ready to start cooking. If you do want to try cooking dead, fresh crawfish, store them in an air-tight container for up to two days in the refrigerator. Any meat that you extract from these crawfish can be placed in a zip-top bag and frozen for as long as three months.
Are You Ready to Try Crawfish?
When people first see crawfish with their shells on, it can be an intimidating sight. How do you even begin to eat those things?
To the initiated, it’s just a quick twist and peel to get to paradise. If it makes you feel more comfortable, you might ask a more experienced crawfish diner to give you a hands-on demonstration. However, there really is no substitute for doing it yourself.
Once you have figured out how to remove the head and the shell, it’s up to you to discover the taste of crawfish. Chances are good that you will be intrigued by the sweet and salty flavor, which may be enhanced by some Cajun herbs and spices.
If you can’t seem to get comfortable with the idea of twisting off the head and tugging out the tail meat, consider trying the flavor of crawdads in a dish like jambalaya or etouffee. These show-stopping dishes frequently contain crawfish among many other delectable ingredients, providing a unique and memorable experience.