Crayfish are one of those animals I've often wanted to eat, but until recently, I didn't have the chance. Which, after I looked into this, seems a bit weird. Kind of like last week's post, chayote, crayfish seem almost ubiquitous. Various types of them are found in North and South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Louisiana in the U.S. is a particularly huge harvester of them--in some years they've produced 95% of the crayfish eaten in the U.S., and 70% of the crayfish in the world. But evidently they're not that common in the Northeast, or else I'm not very observant.
Crayfish (aka "crawfish," "crawdads," mudbugs," "yabbies," and others) are related to lobsters and shrimp. And they closely resemble their kin, too. They look like mini-lobsters, growing to an average length of about 7 inches (18 centimeters) as mature adults. Their habitats are fairly diverse. Except for polluted and salt water, they seem to live in nearly anywhere wet--rivers and streams, swamps, rice paddies, even flooded ditches. A friend of mine (Hi Jess!) found one in a most unlikely spot. While exhuming a human burial, which was down in wet soil, she was shocked to discover a crayfish literally sitting atop the body's pelvic bones!
Anyway, last week I finally saw crayfish on the menu. Oddly, it wasn't at a Cajun or Southern-themed restaurant, but at a German bar/restaurant/dinner theater, called Wohlfahrt Haus, in Wytheville, Virginia. They were served as an appetizer--breaded and fried, with a mustard sauce for dipping. As usual in this situation, I ate some normally, and then tried to separate some of the actual meat from the breading, to get a more complete, pure taste of the crayfish itself. They were very similar to shrimp, I thought. Since I like shrimp, this meant I enjoyed their larger cousin, too. I will definitely try this again if/when I get the opportunity. I'd especially like to try them boiled, during which diners usually eat the claws and heads in addition to the tail meat.
To end on an off-putting note, though, I read that pet crayfish in aquariums (and maybe wild ones, if they're able) have an odd eating habit. As they grow, like many other creatures, crayfish molt, and shed their outer skin. But unlike most animals that do this, crayfish then eat the skin. So, they engage in a nasty example of auto-cannibalism.