These mudbugs make great bait!
Crayfish, crawfish, or crawdads — members of the superfamilies Astacoidea and Parastacoidea — are freshwater crustaceans resembling small lobsters, to which they are related. They breathe through feather-like gills and are found in bodies of water that do not freeze to the bottom; they are also mostly found in brooks and streams where there is fresh water running, and which have shelter against predators. Most crayfish cannot tolerate polluted water, although some species such as the invasive Procambarus clarkii are more hardy. Crayfish feed on living and dead animals and plants.
The name “crayfish” comes from the Old French word escrevisse (Modern French écrevisse) from Old Frankish krebitja (cf. crab), from the same root as crawl. The word has been modified to “crayfish” by association with “fish” (folk etymology). The largely American variant “crawfish” is similarly derived.
Some kinds of crayfish are known locally as lobsters, crawdads, mudbugs, and yabbies. In the Eastern United States, “crayfish” is more common in the north, while “crawdad” is heard more in central and western regions, and “crawfish” further south, although there are considerable overlaps.
The greatest diversity of crayfish species is found in south-eastern North America, with over 330 species in nine genera, all in the family Cambaridae. A further genus of astacid crayfish is found in the Pacific Northwest and the headwaters of some rivers east of the Continental Divide. Many crayfish are also found in lowland areas where the water is abundant in calcium and oxygen rises from underground springs.
Crayfish were introduced purposely into a few Arizona reservoirs and other bodies of water decades ago, primarily as a food source for sport fish. They have since dispersed beyond those original sites.
Fossil records of crayfish older than 30 million years are rare, but fossilized burrows have been found from strata as old as the late Paleozoic or early Mesozoic. The oldest records of the Parastacidae are in Australia, and are 115 million years old.
Crayfish are commonly sold and used as bait, either live or with only the tail meat, and are good at attracting channel catfish, largemouth bass, pike and muskie. However, live crayfish may sometimes have their claws removed in order to prevent them from threatening fish, preventing the fish from biting the hook. Crayfish also easily fall off the hook, so casting should be slow.
The result of using crayfish as bait has led to various ecological problems at times. According to a report prepated by Illinois State University, on the Fox River and Des Plaines River watershed, “The rusty crayfish (used as bait) has been dumped into the water and its survivors outcompete the native clearwater crayfish”. This situation has been repeated elsewhere, as the crayfish bait eliminates native species.
As zebra mussels have also been known to attach themselves to the crayfish bait, this is one of the ways it has spread to different waterways.
Boiled crayfish, in Louisiana.
Crayfish are eaten all over the world. Like other edible crustaceans, only a small portion of the body of a crayfish is edible. In most prepared dishes, such as soups, bisques and étouffées, only the tail portion is served. At crawfish boils or other meals where the entire body of the crayfish is presented, other portions may be eaten.
Claws of larger boiled specimens are often pulled apart to access the meat inside. Another favourite is to suck the head of the crayfish, as seasoning and flavour can collect in the fat of the boiled interior. A popular double entendre laden phrase heard around crawfish season in Louisiana derives from this practice: “suck the head; pinch the tail”.
A common myth is that a crawfish with a straight tail died before it was boiled and is not safe to eat. In reality, crawfish that died before boiling can have curled tails as well as straight, as can those that were alive, and may very well be fine to eat. Boiled crawfish which died before boiling are safe to eat if they were kept chilled before boiling and were not dead for a long time. (This does not mean that a sack of crawfish that are all dead should be boiled.) A much better test than the straight tail as to the edibility of any crawfish is the tail meat itself; if it is mushy, it is usually an indication that it should be avoided.
Like all crustaceans, crayfish are not kosher because they are aquatic animals that do not have both fins and scales. They are therefore not eaten by observant Jews.
And now… YUM!
Louisiana Crawfish Boil Recipe
1 (35 to 40 pound) sack live Louisiana Crawfish*
1 (26-ounce) box salt for purging
2 (1 pound) boxes/sacks Crawfish Boil Seasoning (also known as crab or shrimp boil seasoning) – see column on left
6 to 8 lemons, sliced in half
Small onions, peeled
Smoked sausage, cut up into large pieces
Small red or new potatoes, unpeeled
15 to 20 ears of fresh corn on the cob, shucked and broken in halves
6 heads of garlic, split in half exposing pods
* Use overnight delivery for live crawfish. You should order the crawfish to arrive the day before or the day of your crawfish boil.
crawfish boiling potsAs you can see from the photo of the boiling pots on the right, John boiled up many sacks of live crawfish for this party.
One large Stainless-Steel Boiling pot (60 to 80 gallon) with basket insert, and lid (you can use your Deep-Fat Turkey Fryer – will cook about 10 to 15 pounds of crawfish per batch)
Outdoor high-pressure propane cooker
Large tub or two ice chests (depending on the amount of live crawfish)
A large paddle for stirring the crawfish.
A large picnic table with plenty of newspapers to cover it, several rolls of paper towels, and a large garbage can.
How many pounds of live crawfish to order: Plan on ordering about 2 to 3 pounds of crawfish per person or 4 to 5 pounds for a heavier crawfish eater. Some people are extra-heavy eaters. For them you will need 5 to 7 pounds.
Keeping Live Crawfish Techniques: Crawfish season is from late February to mid-May. You must keep the live Crawfish fresh and healthy. Keep them in a cool place and out of the heat. Your garage is the perfect spot until you’re ready to boil.
When you receive your sacks of crawfish, simply take your sack of crawfish, hose them down, and place them back in a cooler (or the box the sacks arrived in) with a bag of ice. Do not take the crawfish out of the sack, leave them in the sack and hose the entire sack with fresh water.
If you use ice, be sure to drain them frequently. DO NOT let them sit in cold water for a long time or they will die! Keep live crawfish at 36 to 46 degrees F. for approximately 3 days with wet burlap sacks, towels, etc. on top. Let crawfish return to room temperature before using. Do not leave the crawfish outside if the temperature is freezing level or below!
When traveling with crawfish, a few of them will die naturally due to stress of being moved, etc.
The cardinal rule is to purge and thoroughly wash the crawfish before boiling them. Pour the sack of live crawfish in a plastic children’s pool, large tub, or a large ice chest. Pour one (1) 26-ounce box salt over the top of the crawfish. Add water to just cover the crawfish. Gently stir with a large paddle to mix the salt and the water. Stir for 3 minutes, then rinse crawfish. NOTE: some people skip adding salt.
Be careful not to let them purge too long. You do not want them to be dead when you add them to the boil. Throw away all crawfish that have already died (the dead crawfish should float to the top). You do not, I repeat, DO NOT want to add dead crawfish to the pot.
After purging and cleaning, don’t leave the crawfish covered with water, as they need air to stay alive. Keep the crawfish in a cool or shaded area until you’re ready to start cooking.
Boiling Crawfish: If you have not already done so, drink a cold beer.
In a large (60- to 80-gallon) pot over high heat, add enough water to fill a little more than halfway.
Squeeze the juice out of the lemon halves into the water and throw the lemon halves into the water.
Add crawfish or crab boil seasoning.
Cover pot, turn on the burner full blast, and bring water to a boil; boil 2 to 3 minutes to allow the spices to mix well. NOTE: It needs to be hot enough to bring the pot to a rolling boil in about 15 minutes.
Using a large wire basket that fits into the pot, add onions, sausage, mushrooms, and potatoes. Maintain a boil and cook 10 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
Add crawfish to the wire basket, stirring them a bit. Once the water starts a rolling boil again, boil 5 minutes. Regulate the burner so the rolling boil is maintained, but where the pot does not boil over.
Turn the burner off, keep the pot covered, and let the crawfish soak for 20 to 30 minutes. Remove wire basket from pot.
Remove the strainer from the water, and rest it on the top of the pot using two boards laid on the top of the pot as a rack. Let the crawfish drain.
Serving Boiled Crawfish:
To serve the traditional way, cover a table (preferably outdoors) with thick layers of newspaper.
Spill the contents of the basket (onions, potatoes, sausage, mushrooms, and crawfish) along the length of the newspaper-covered table. They are best served steaming hot.
Makes 10 servings. (5 if you love them like I do)
Need to buy some live mud bugs????