Live Crayfish Help Needed
I stopped in to a large international grocery here in St.Louis--Jay's for other St.L locals. Among all the other many interesting things were a box of live crayfish. It was too late too plan anything that Sunday afternoon, but the woman behind the counter said that they get them most every weekend.
So i went back home and consulted some cookbooks. The French books all recommended cleaning them--removing the gut--whilst still alive and thrashing, but did not say exactly how to do this. Paul Prudhomme recommended using "tail meat" in all of his books--which i seriously doubt he uses in his kitchen. Good old Rombaur ("Joy") gave detailed instructions (essentially, grab the tail, twist and pull), but indicated that cleaning was not necessary if the critters were kept "in fresh running water" for a few days to clean them.
I guess my question is: Do i really need to clean them before cooking? Can you lightly boil them then clean like a shrimp? I've done live shrimp like that. As a hypocritical carnivore, i don't think i could pull the guts out of 20 or so angry crayfish. One or two, maybe, but after a while i'd start feeling like the crustacean slaughterhouse. Dumping them, en masse, into boiling water i could handle. So what do the hounds recommend? Thanks in advance.
If you're just going to use the tail meat, take 'm live, boil some water with shrimp boil (box, not bottle; I like Zatarans but any good brand will do. I use about a box for every 1.5-2 gallons. Cut some lemons in half and throw those in too, get it to a rolling boil and throw in the mud bugs. They only take a minute or two (the same time a shrimp their size), then take them out and rinse to cool down.
To peel, think of a mini lobster. It's the same technique. Save the shells, claws, heads and all and chop'em in the food processor to use as the flavoring for a stock or sauce.
Simple sauce recipe: sautee the chopped shells with a mire proix (sp?), add some cream, simmer and reduce over low heat, strain, continue reducing to desired consistency. Add fresh tarregon and sauce the dish, or drink from cup.
I am guessing that a crayfish is the small freshwater thing (like the Australian Yabbie), not the big saltwater beast. If so, having caught and consumed many of the former I would suggest just cook them without cleaning. You can clean them up after cooking if you like. Some people think that sucking out the yellowish juices in the thorax ("mustard") is the best bit, but as they also tend to be strange old men you may not want to do this.
If you want to cook without dumping them in alive and wriggling, you can put them into a freezer for 10-15 minutes, they will then be "asleep". Don't freeze them though, only chill.
They're called mud bugs, in some instances, for good reason. But the ones you buy in a fish market should not be muddy. You could soak them for a while, just to be sure they've expelled whatever they might still have to get rid of. Cleaning after cooking should be unnecessary. I favor Greg Spence's suggestion of boiling like live crabs, in a well seasoned broth. When you eat them, don't forget to suck the "fat" out of the heads. You can buy the tail meat frozen at Bob's in U.City, maybe Jay's too. But for fresh, I'd just shuck them and eat, as is.