These wonderful mudbugs of the land are a favorite treat at gatherings in the south. Yes, they are eaten - and when I say eaten, it's a huge tradition to make a big deal of it!
When I first came to Louisiana (from England)I had never heard of a crawfish. Now, Crayfish I was familiar with - their much bigger cousin that lives in the ocean and looks like baby lobsters. I ate those all the time in South Africa when I lived there. Crawfish are quite different, in taste and habitat.
I compiled this step guide through a lot of research (and now through experience in the Bayou State) to answer any questions you may have on this delicious subject!
How To Cook Them
The most common way to cook crawfish is to boil them. A crawfish pot is big enough and perfect for this task. Filled with water and seasonings it is boiled on propane tanks outside, along with some vegetables (like potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, corn, green bell pepper, green onions, garlic). You can also use a crawfish cooker, those can be pricey though.
I have cooked them indoors, on my stove before. You will do that only if you're cooking just a handful though, which most people never do. Nine times out of ten this is an outdoor event!
If you're not boiling them, then you could be making any of the following recipes:
- Crawfish étouffée
- Crawfish Pie
- Crawfish Monica
- Crawfish Fettucine
- Crawfish Pistolettes
- Crawfish Omelet
- Crawfish Pizza
- Crawfish Bread
- Fried Crawfish
- Crawfish Boudin
- Crawfish Gumbo
- Crawfish Cakes
- Crawfish Bisque
How To Eat Crawfish
People have different views on the best way to peel a crawfish. Some people are experts and really enjoy getting on down. Personally, I'm more lazy about that kind of thing and so am not so adept at peeling.
It comes down to how well they are cooked. If you don't get the crawfish boil right from the start, it makes it really tough to peel them. You should be able to just take one, remove the head (suck the juices out if you like that), then pinch the tail and pull the meat out. If the boil is perfect, it makes doing that real easy.
I made a short video on how to peel crawfish tails to give you a general idea, it's slowed down so you can really see it:
What Does Crawfish Taste Like?
Crawfish has a delicious sweet flavor, like a cross between shrimp and crab. It does have it's own flavor though. There is no mistaking it for anything else.
The texture is firm, like that of shrimp, although the shell is much tougher so requires it to be cooked longer.
Usually, when being boiled there are a lot of Cajun seasoning and cayenne pepper that gets added (to penetrate that shell), which can be adjusted to your own preferences. We like it kind of in the middle of the road, our kids are ok with a little spice but not too much.
How to Reheat Crawfish
Reheating crawfish is something you have to be careful with. Don't forget, usually in a finished dish like étouffée, the crawfish has already been cooked twice at this point... so you don't want to over do it or they'll shrink up and become rubbery.
The best way to reheat boiled crawfish is in the microwave. Due to the microwaves cooking from the middle first, this works perfectly for reheating them. Place them in a plastic bowl with a cover and leave a slight crack. Reheat those tiny lobsters for just a couple of minutes.
What is Crawfish?
Crawfish, crayfish, mudbugs, yabbies, crawdads.... different names but only due to regional naming differences. Crawfish are freshwater crustaceans that look a lot like small lobsters (but smaller)... they are very different though.
95% of the United States supply of live crawfish comes from Louisiana. 100 Million Pounds of crawfish are farmed every year, it's no wonder it's such a big part of the Cajun New Orleans culture.
In north America you're more likely to hear them referred to as Crayfish, whereas in the south Crawdads and Crawfish most commonly.
There are hundreds of different species of crawfish all over the world!
They typically grow to between 3"-7" and early in the year they have a lighter color to them but as the year progresses the color of the shell changes and becomes a deeper/darker shade of red.
Crawfish have two main body parts, the head section (cephalothorax) and the abdomen and travel backwards back scooting that abdomen. Have you ever heard the expression "to crawfish" out of a situation? This creature is where that expression comes from... like a backing away from something.
The lifespan of a crawfish averages 3-8 years, depending if they're wild or farmed. They are preyed upon by many species (not just us humans), especially by birds and fish. In fact, they're used as bait by many fishermen.
Where Do You Find Them?
Some species live in the running streams and rivers of fresh water (white river crawfish), while other species prefer the swamps and ditches. In South Louisiana you're very likely to have seen their crawfish mounds all over backyards and alongside ditches. They're like little chimneys of dirt strutting up from the crawfish burrowing into the ground.
When being farmed it's typical for farmers to double up with farming rice, as rice likes a very moist environment, so do the crawfish. You'll see hundreds of crawfish traps in these rice fields in Louisiana - as we all know, it's a very wet, swampy land.
My husband and step-son go and catch crawfish, in wire baskets like below. They will put some kind of stinky meat of some kind in there to attract the crawfish. The stinkier the better. They submerge the trap about a third of the way in the water, then let the trap sit for about 2 days.
In the peak of crawfish season they could even go every day and the traps they put out will all be full.
When is Crawfish Season?
The weather can alter the season somewhat, but not by much.
For us in Louisiana, if there is a mild winter - end of November, mid-December you'll start seeing a few sacks of crayfish on the market. They are tiny, tedious to peel and extremely expensive because it's not the height of the season yet.
We find the best crawfish in abundance, in their peak months, from mid-March through May, because they like rain and heat! This is when Mardi Gras is in full swing and people are having a traditional crawfish boil every weekend (especially during lent). Due to the supply/demand thing, at this time of the year they are much cheaper.
After July the crawfish season is over and we have to wait until December again to see any.