It is unclear whether crayfish originated in East Asia or Northern Europe. In any case, their presence has been found in Scandinavian fossils dating back some 10,000 years.
As they are present in lakes and rivers, crayfish have always been eaten in countryside regions. Until the Middle Ages, noble crayfish were only found in Eastern France. But they spread to other regions at the hand of monks because crayfish, considered fish, made their fasting indescribably more bearable during Lent.
They were given gastronomic credentials in the 17th and 18th centuries with the creation of several dishes: pigeon aux écrevisses, écrevisses en bouquet, écrevisses en cassolette, écrevisses en bisque, Nantua sauce etc.
In the United States, crayfish is eaten a lot in Louisiana because it is very abundant in all waterways there. There are many Cajun specialties, including crawfish bisque and crawfish stew.
When buying a crayfish, it should be alive and show plenty of liveliness: its tail must move forcefully. Its carapace should not be soft.
Fresh noble crayfish from farms or imported.
Whole or shelled frozen crayfish are mostly of the red swamp variety, sold under their scientific name Procambarus clarkii. Although these are red, they should not be mistaken for noble crayfish. Their origin must be stated on the label.
Before cooking, it is necessary to devein the live crayfish, in other words, removing their intestine by pulling on the small flap under the tail. If this is not done, they will have a bitter taste.
Frozen crayfish have already been deveined.
In order to preserve their flavor and the delicateness of their meat, they should be cooked twice for a short time: the claws boiled (3 minutes on average), and the tails pan-fried. Aromatics are often added to them (cognac, garlic, parsley) in order to bring out their fragrance.
Live crayfish can be kept for about 12 hours in the refrigerator on a rack covered with a damp cloth (not too wet because excess moisture will cause them to die and go off quickly).
Cooked crayfish can be kept in the refrigerator for 1–2 days. If they are shelled, they should be wrapped in damp paper.
Frozen cooked crayfish can be stored for 1–2 months.
High in protein and low in fat, crayfish have few calories. They contain a small amount of B group vitamins and minerals, including manganese and selenium.
Crayfish are found in Europe, Asia, North America, and Australia. For various reasons (pollution, overfishing, degradation of water quality, etc), they are in decline everywhere.
This has led to the development of astaciculture: crayfish farming.
The most common species are:
. Danube crayfish: light-colored carapace, covered in spines. A native of Turkey, its flesh is very bland.
. White-clawed crayfish: light belly and greenish back, its meat is excellent. It is mainly found in Western Europe (Ireland, Great Britain, north and east of Spain, and Portugal, but is becoming increasingly uncommon.
. Noble crayfish or red-clawed crayfish: 10–20 cm in size and weighing 50–150 g, this is the best variety. Present in European waterways but rare, this variety is farmed in different regions.
. Spiny-cheek crayfish and red swamp crayfish: introduced to France in the early 20th century, these invasive species are considered pests because they tend to replace the native crayfish in many countries. They range in color from gray to red.
. Signal crayfish: native to the west coast of the United States, this variety was introduced to France in the 1970s and 80s. It is also an invasive species. It has very large, smooth claws that have a light marking. They can weigh up to 150 g.
Crayfish catches are highly regulated in Europe.
In order to protect native species in many regions, only invasive varieties (spiny-cheek, red swamp, and Signal crayfish) can be caught throughout the year. Their live transport is banned.
Fishing for native and protected species is authorized during one or two weeks in July.