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From a lake or the market, a summer crayfish feast.

Mini-cousins of the lobster, crayfish are found throughout the West. Until recently you had to catch them yourself in freshwater creeks, lakes, rivers, or canals, as the Seattle family shown on the next page does. But now crayfish are being caught commercially in the Sacramento-San Loaquin Delta area of California and in central Oregon, and farmed on a large scale in Louisiana.

Crayfish are considered a great delicacy all over the world. In fact, in the first years of California's commercial crayfish industry--starting about a decade ago--well over 90 percent of the catch was exported to crayfish-crazy Sweden.

Where to buy them, now to October

Within the last few years, live and fresh cooked crayfish hace been finding their way into seafood markets, specialty grocery stores, and restaurants.

The commercial season runs from May to October. Even at its height, your may need to order ahead, though some seafood markets have them on a regular basis, holding them live in tanks just like lobsters. Price ranges from $3 to $)4 a pound, and it takes at least a pound (12 to 15) to make a serving.

Many wholesale fish dealers who carry crayfish will sell directly to you or will ship by bus or plane (usually an extra 15 to 20 cents a pound). The crayfish arrive live and well packed in insulated boxes.

Three dominant types of crayfish are found in the West. The native (and most plentiful) species is the signal crayfish (Pacifastacus); it prefers cold water. Orconectes virilis was introduced from the Midwest and favors streamers or lakes. The red swamp crayfish (Procambarus clarkii), an introduced species from Louisiana, is also farmed in that state; it can handle warmer water and likes still water where it can burrow.

Most commercial crayfishermen use baited wire traps (shown above). The crayfish are weighed, rinsed, and sorted by size. Live ones are held overnight in a cleaning tank to free them of silt and to help clear their intestines (we suggest you do the same if you catch your own). Then the hardy creatures are covered with burlap and shaved ice and put into cold storage at about 38 degrees to ship all over the United States and Europe.

Catching your own, for fun and feast

Sport crayfish season is open all year, but fishing is best when the waterways settle after winter runoff. The most adventurous way to nab crayfish in shallow water is to wade along a stream looking under logs, among tree roots, and against dams and logjams. When you see one, grab it just behind the claws. A word of caution: they can quickly scoot backwards with a flip of the tail, and they pinch.

More effective methods include dangling a hunk of bait (such as liver or bacon) from the end of a line in deeper pools or lakes. When a greedy crayfish latches onto the bait, slowly pull it up, then scoop it out of the water in a landing net or wire basket. Or you can buy traps.

Crayfish adapt to a wide variety of habitats, but they concentrate in certain areas. To find out where to trap them in your area and to learn regulations, check with your state fish and game department.

The messy art of eating crayfish

Eating crayfish is not an enterprise for the timid. The tail, which readily breaks away from the body, is the primary prize since it contains the major portion of meat. Those who take time to crack the claws (a good bite or pressure with a thumbnail should do it) are rewarded with the sweetest, most succulent segments. Sip juices that linger in the shells and, if you like, eat the green to gold "butter" in the body cavity. In females, you may find clusters of delicious bright red eggs.

A summertime crayfish feast

Dill, a Scandinavian favorite with crayfish, season both the crustaceans and the potato salad for this summer picnic. You can cook and eat the crayfish hot or let them marinate in the dill-flavored stock overnight and serve them cold.

Northwest Crayfish Platter Dilled Potato Salad Vinaigrette Crusty French Bread Butter Watermelon or Homemade Ice Cream

To transport crayfish, especially when you've caught them, keep them cool with damp cloths or on ice. You can refrigerate live ones up to 24 hours, but expect some mortalities.

Start with a lot of boiling water so crayfish begin to cook at once; you can use a canning kettle if you have one.

Northwest Crayfish Platter 8 to 10 pounds live crayfish 8 quarts water 3 tablespoons salt 3/4 to 1-1/4 pounds fresh mature dill, including flower heads

Spray crayfish with cool running water if necessary to remove any mud or debris. Discard ones that are limp and don't move--they are dead.

Pour water into a 14- to 16-quart kettle. Add salt and half the dill. Cover and bring to boiling over high heat.

Drop crayfish into the kettle. Cook on high heat (boil may nor resume) until the meat in the tail is firm and opaque throughout (pull the tail off a crayfish to test), 5 to 7 minutes.

To serve hot, lift out crayfish with a slotted spoon and mound on a large serving platter; garnish with remaining dill.

To serve cold, transfer cooked crayfish to a 6- to 8-quart noncorrodible container (such as glass or ceramic). Let cool; cover and chill. Meanwhile, cover and chill cooking liquid until cold; pour through a cheesecloth-lined strainer and return to pan. Add crayfish; cover and chill at least 4 hours or up to 1 day. Drain crayfish and mound on a large platter. Garnish with remaining fresh dill. Allow 12 to 15 crayfish for a serving. Serves 8 to 10.

Dilled Potato Salad Vinaigrette

Scrub 3 pounds medium-size thin-skinned potatoes (about 2-in. size). Steam, covered, on a rack over boiling water until tender when perced, about 25 minutes. Let stand until cool enough to handle; peel and slice 1/4 inch thick.

Combine 1/2 cup each dry white wine and olive or salad oil, 1/4 cup white wine vinegar, and 1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh chives or green onions, including tops. Pour over warm potatoes and mix gently. Let cool to room temperature; sprinkle with 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill and serve. Or cover and chill as long as overnigh, then sprinkle with dill. Serves 8 to 10.
COPYRIGHT 1985 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes recipes; Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta area of California
Publication:Sunset
Date:Jun 1, 1985
Words:1069
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