Crawdads, crawfish, and crayfish are different names that refer to the same animal. The animal is named differently based on where you live. So if you’re in Louisiana, you’ll probably know it as crawfish. People in the north call it crayfish, while in the West Coast, you’ll probably use the term crawdad. The same animal is named differently in several parts of the world, and in most cases, it’s referred to as freshwater lobster.
But regardless of its name, anglers and seafood lovers always ask this question: can you eat crawdads? If so, then what is the best method to clean and cook crawdads?
Crawdads are edible and delicious. Although they were historically used as food for the poor, things have changed, and you can now enjoy an expensive crawdad platter at a famous restaurant.
However, to ensure the highest level of freshness, crawdads have to be alive right before they’re cooked. Keep on reading to learn more about eating and preparing crawdads.
Crawdads or crayfish are edible in different parts of the world. These are small shellfish or crustaceans that are found on the floor of rivers and lakes across the US and many other countries.
The name crawfish or crayfish refers to the fact that the animal looks like a cross between a lobster and a fish.
However, crawdads aren’t lobsters, although they look a lot like them. A crawdad has two claws at the front and a set of six or eight legs that help it move across the bottom of the waterbody.
Author Note: There are more than 500 species of crawdads that thrive in different parts of the world, except in Africa.
Snakes, raccoons, and muskrats consider crawdads a tasty treat, and so do many people because they’re easily found. This is why crawdads are popular as food during hiking and camping trips.
Crawdads can be red, white, blue, or a mix of different colors, but most of them are moss green with some brown. They can be served in soups, kinds of butter, main dishes, and salads because they’re incredibly versatile.
Crawdads might look like lobsters and are classified as fish, but they taste like neither. As a matter of fact, they have a unique taste of their own, which is hard to describe unless someone actually tries them.
Some people say that the taste is closely related to the taste of shrimp and crab, although it’s more unique.
The meat is sweet and has a firm texture, but you need to know how to get it out of the animal’s body. This is a learning yet fun experience. Otherwise, you’ll be throwing much of the meat to waste.
If the crawdads taste muddy, then there was a problem in the preparation process.
Because crawdads live on the bottom of the lake or river, they’re scavengers that feed on the debris and organic matter that fall to the bottom.
These animals are omnivorous, but they prefer to feed on animal protein. So, they will feed on live and dead fish, shrimp, and algae. When there’s a shortage in animal protein, crawdads will feed solely on plant matter.
Crawdads or crayfish are rich in proteins and low in fats. As a result, they’re suitable for those who are trying to watch their calories or limit their fat intake.
You can eat crawdads raw if they’re cured in salt. However, humans can suffer from Paragonimiasis, which is a parasitic disease caused by the parasites that live in crawdads’ bodies.
The parasites infect the lungs of humans and can cause several annoying symptoms like fever, malaise, diarrhea, belly pain, and itches.
Hot temperatures kill these parasites, so it’s best to boil or cook crawdads using any other cooking method before they’re served. They cook fast and don’t need to be overcooked, so they don’t lose their texture or taste.
Crawdads need to be thoroughly cleaned before they’re cooked because they can be filled with sand and debris. In addition, there’s a vein that runs through the back of the crustacean and should be removed before cooking.
Author Note: This vein is called the poop line in Louisiana and can ruin the taste of your crawdad dish.
Here are some simple steps to clean your crawdads and prepare them for your chosen cooking method.
- Fill a bowl with cold water and stir the crawdads in to rinse the sand off. Toss away any floating crawdads because they’re already dead and can’t be eaten.
- Throw away the dirty water and fill the bowl with clean water. Next, add some salt to the bowl and soak the crawdads for about 20 minutes. This process is called purging.
- Toss the dirty water again and keep on refilling the bowl with clean water. Keep on rinsing until the water runs clear, and the crawdads have released all the debris. It usually takes four to five soaks until the crawdads are perfectly clean.
Since crawdads are better cooked while they’re still alive, chefs and scientific researchers have always thought about the most thoughtful and humane technique to prepare them before they’re cooked.
Some researchers believe that the nervous system of crawfish or crawdads is too simple to feel any pain. However, others suggest some relaxation techniques that can help the crawdads relax, so they don’t flick or jump when they’re placed into the hot water.
Several methods can be used to numb the crawdads so they can’t feel the pain if they actually do.
First, you can put your fresh crawdads in the freezer for about 15 minutes. The cold temperature will numb the animals without killing them.
Some people also suggest putting crawdads in a bucket or bowl of salt or freshwater. Since this water has a limited amount of oxygen, they will eventually fall asleep as the levels of carbon dioxide increase in the water.
This method has another benefit because when the crawdads sleep and lose consciousness, they lose control of their bowls, so they’re easier to clean.
The best way to prepare crawdads is to boil them with delicious seasoning, so they can release their tasty flavors. They cook fast and will take between 3 and 5 minutes. Frozen crawdads cook in a minute or two because they’re already cooked.
The secret always lies in the seasoning and the spices you add to the boil. It’s a matter of personal preference, but most people prefer to enjoy Cajun spices with crawdads, so they can enjoy the authentic taste of the Louisiana cuisine.
Although the method is called a boil, it’s more of a simmering and poaching cooking technique.
As a rule of thumb, you need between 3 to 5 pounds of flesh per guest, so you can estimate the number of crawdads you need to prepare for dinner.
For the seasoning, you can prepare your own mix using lemon salt, freshly ground black pepper, paprika, thyme, garlic powder, and onion powder.
Author Note: You can add red pepper flakes and cayenne pepper or skip them if you want your dish to taste milder. You can also buy a crawfish seasoning mix.
The biggest amount of meat is found in the tail and in the front claws. However, some people still prefer to eat other parts of the crawdads like the legs.
The shell and the sac behind the eyes aren’t edible.
- 5 to 7 lemons, depending on their size
- Smoked sausages
- Red potatoes
- Boiled corn
- Fill a pot with water and make sure that it’s deep enough to cover all the crawdads. Then, add the seasoning and bring it to a boi.
- Stir in the crawdads and let them sit between 4 to 5 minutes, or until they turn bright orange or red.
- Toss the boiling water away and fill the pot with cold water to stop the cooking process.
- Arrange the crawdads in a baking sheet with the vegetables and sausages.
- Squeeze the lemons and add more of the seasoning.
- Add half a cup of water to cook the other ingredients.
- Serve hot.
You can also grill crawdads by slicing them from the middle and rubbing them with a marinade made of butter, lemon, seasoning, and dill. Grill the flesh side up until the flesh becomes darker.
You can also brush the flesh with butter and roast it in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until it turns darker.
If you don’t know how to peel crawdads well, you’ll end up throwing the precious meat away. Here are some simple steps to follow.
- Start with peeling the head off.
- Peel the shell off the tail, starting from the furthest end.
- Pull the tail out of the shell and dip it into a mix of butter, lemon, and spices.
- If the claws are big enough, bite through them to break the shell and eat the meat. Some people also love to eat the head and yellow liver.
Crawdads are delicious and cook fast. There are several ways to cook crawdads, but the best way is to boil them with Cajun spices. In order to enjoy tasty crawdads, you need to clean them thoroughly before cooking them.
Otherwise, they will taste muddy.