If you’ve been offered what looks like lobster but smaller, then you are having a delicious freshwater crustacean known as crawfish. Crawfish used to be a mere wild subsistence food but now, this crustacean is a cultivated staple in many places around the world.
You can find crawfish in different bodies of water – brooks, streams, swamps, ditches, or even in paddy fields. But if you think it is easy growing crawfish, think again. This enterprise presents a lot of challenges especially to inexperienced people with little to no knowledge of crawfish. For one, many types of crawfish cannot survive polluted water, so unless you have hardier types like the Louisiana crawfish (Procambarus clarkii), you should know from the start to pay attention to the quality of water you have on your pond.
Crawfish are omnivores, feeding on animals and plants, whether they are dead or alive.
Crawfish is food and to some, a pest. It is also grown as a pet. Anglers use crawfish as bait. The Protivin brewery in the Czech Republic uses crayfish to monitor the quality and purity of water the brewery is using to make beer. In the wild, crawfish helps scientists monitor the presence of water pollutants.
Superfamily: Astacoidea and Parastacoidea
- Crawfish are known by other names, such as crayfish, craydids, crawdaddies, crawdads, freshwater lobsters, mountain lobsters, rock lobsters, mudbugs, or yabbies.
- There is a dedicated field of study for crawfish, which is called astacology.
- You might mistake crawfish with lobster, and it is alright (you won’t be the first and you won’t be the last) because of the similarities between the two. In fact, lobster and crawfish are actually related to one another.
- There are fossilized burrows of crawfish which, according to scientists, could be as old as the late Palaeozoic or early Mesozoic era.
- Acid rain is a threat to crawfish. Scientists theorized that this is because of their exoskeleton which is not built to survive an acidified environment.
Crawfish Buying Guide
The first question especially for first-timers is where to buy crawfish? You can find crawfish sold in the fish section of the market. Or you can directly visit a crawfish farm. The last option is to order fresh crawfish online. This will cost more because same-day or next-day delivery is not cheap.
The first and most important thing to remember is to buy crawfish that are still alive. It is also ideal to buy fresh crawfish, which means they were freshly caught. If there is an option to buy clean crawfish versus muddied crawfish, go for clean crawfish because you don’t have to put too much time and effort into cleaning, and you get your money’s worth since you are paying crawfish based on weight, and you don’t want to pay for mud weight.
Sometimes, you’ll come across sellers, vendors, or stalls that sell crawfish in different price categories. The lowest category (cheapest, or most affordable) means the lowest quality crawfish from the lot/batch; these are muddy crawfish, mixed match in sizes, and will cause minor inconveniences like uneven cooking. If your budget allows, opt for the premium or top-shelf crawfish. These are usually large and clean.
When to buy crawfish? Buy crawfish on the day you plan to cook it. Crawfish must be alive until you are ready to cook them. Cooking dead crawfish is a bad idea. You will probably end up with crawfish that taste rotten or taste bad.
There is not much meat in crawfish, so make sure you buy enough for everyone. Meat yield is usually around 20% and one person can eat between 3 to 5 pounds of crawfish.
If you can’t buy fresh crawfish, you can look for frozen crawfish in vacuum packs at the frozen goods section of the supermarket or grocery store.
Crawfish Production & Farming in Texas
Louisiana may be the top producer when it comes to crawfish but Texas is also producing a considerable amount of crawfish annually at 2 million pounds every year. The rise of crawfish popularity in Texas began along the Sabine River where Cajuns settling in Southeast Texas cooked and farmed crawfish.
Texas crawfish farmers follow the same method of flooding rice fields (usually in October) with shallow water but deep enough to set traps for crawfish. The next step is to set up traps with food as bait to attract hungry crawfish. Flat bottom boats designed for shallow waters are used when harvesting. Simply pick up the trap, transfer the captured crawfish into a bucket, and put the trap back in the water with fresh bait. You’ll find red swamp crawfish (Procambarus clarkii) or white river crawfish (Procambarus zonangulus), the two most commonly cultivated crawfish species. These harvested crawfish will be placed in a tank for a freshwater bath to remove mud and debris and purge internal impurities. The entire process is done early in the afternoon.
A lot depends on the weather too. Texas A&M University Associate Professor and Aquaculture Specialist Todd Sink explained that it is important to have a mild, warm winter with plenty of rainfall if farmers want a plentiful harvest.
The crawfish industry is robust in Southeast Texas. You’ll find ponds growing crawfish in Jefferson County. Where there are rice fields and rice is a major industry, you can expect crawfish farming not far behind, like in Winnie in Chambers County, the host of the Texas Rice Festival (TRF). You’ll find crawfish farmers in Sour Lake City, in Hamshire, in Crosby (Harris County), in El Campo, in La Marque which hosted the 2017 Bigass Crawfish Bash that earned the distinction of having the most crawfish prepared in eight hours (north of 58,000 pounds).
Crawfish harvested here are sold to local buyers and wholesalers that sell these in different parts of the state like Houston and provide for restaurants with crawfish on the menu, in Austin, Waco, and San Antonio, among others.
Crawfish in the wild are available in Texas waters from January to July. Crawfish from farms are available when crawfish from the wild is gone for the year. H-E-B, an American privately held supermarket chain based in San Antonio, Texas, sells live crawfish
If crawfish is more of a pest to you, unfortunately, there is no pesticide you can use because no pesticides have been approved for use on crawfish. And since they burrow deep into the ground, it is not wise to poison them because you will risk contaminating groundwater, and even if you kill them all, more will come back come next rainy season.
North America has the most diverse crawfish population. Crawfish is also found in Australia and New Zealand.
Geography influenced how this crustacean is locally or commonly known. Crawfish is the American variant of the European crayfish, which was derived from French and German terms referencing crabs and fish to form the word crayfish. Today, however, Americans use both crayfish and crawfish. Worldwide, the term “crayfish” is also used for other crustaceans. In Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa for example, crayfish to them is the saltwater spiny lobster (from the family Palinuridae, genus Jasus) indigenous to southern Oceania. There are freshwater crawfish but they call these yabbies or kōura (the name given to this crustacean by the indigenous people in the area). In Singapore, crayfish refers to a member of the slipper lobster family Thenus orientalis. Others simply call them freshwater lobsters.
China ranks number one when it comes to global production of crawfish and 95% of global crawfish supply comes from Asia. The US is a major player in global crawfish production. In the US, Louisiana is the biggest producer of crawfish. Texas cultivates crawfish for food, so do Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, and North Carolina.
Crawfish have been consumed by humans as early as the 16th century. When it comes to eating crawfish, the most popular is the southern tradition of a crawfish boil. When eating crawfish, most of the meat is found in the tail. Others suck the head, claiming it is the juiciest, tastiest part of the crawfish. Eat crawfish with potatoes, corn, garlic, Andouille sausages, and vegetables.
Do not eat crawfish with a straight tail. This crawfish was dead when it was cooked, and it will taste bad. A crawfish that was alive when cooked will have a curved tail.
Crawfish is not kosher.
Do not keep crawfish at room temperature. Boiled crawfish can be stored in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days.
The longest you can store crawfish meat is for one month. Boil the crawfish and remove the meat from the shell. Prepare a brine in a clean container with a lid and put the crawfish meat there. Store this in the freezer and keep it closed.
Crawfish is a major part of Louisiana and Swedish cuisine. In Sweden, they have a crayfish party they call Kräftskiva.
Cooking crawfish for the traditional crawfish boil involves boiling crawfish in a bath that contains spices, lemons, sausages, and other ingredients (which vary from one recipe to the other). When you search for crawfish recipes, this is the first thing you will find. But there are also other ways to cook crawfish. You can use crawfish in soups, bisques and étouffées. You can use crawfish for other dishes like salads, pasta, gumbo, ravioli, macaroni and cheese, and corn chowder. You can use it to make bread and pies, sandwiches, burgers, quesadillas, tacos, quiche, fritters, crepe cake, and boudin.
Eating crawfish is beneficial to the body because crawfish have minerals (iron, selenium, iodine, calcium, zinc, potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium) and protein with all essential amino acids. It also has vitamin A, folates, niacin, vitamin B6, thiamin, and riboflavin.
Eating crawfish presents many health benefits like decreasing the risk of heart attack and stroke, decreasing the chances of obesity, and helping avoid hypertension. It can help with weight loss and help maintain our bones, brain, and skin healthy.
Here’s another thing to consider: it is a good choice for seafood because there is a very slim chance it has high mercury content, unlike other seafood choices.