Crayfish (Astacus astacus) are protected most of the year but in August and September the chase is intense in ponds, brooks and streams all over Scandinavia. Until recently, crayfish were a popular, relatively cheap and abundant food, to catch yourself in the countless freshwater holes and lakes.
But draining, pollution and a crayfish pest have decimated the population dramatically. Owning a crayfish pond is something to be proud of: what might seem to be just another hole in the ground is jealousy protected, and stealing another man’s crayfish is an unthinkable crime.
Appearance and taste
Crayfish are short, seldom more than 12cm, resembling a small lobster. They can be greenish, blue, or black when raw, but they all turn a glorious scarlet when cooked. The taste is different from that of all other shellfish, delicate and sweet.
Related: Scandinavian Shellfish and Molluscs
Buying and storing
Fresh indigenous crayfish are available in Scandinavia only in August and September, but import of a different species are available year-round. Sadly, Swedes now more often eat imported crayfish from Turkey and Eastern Europe, a different species with an inferior taste to that of the native.
You can but crayfish precooked, and frozen, but these are really not worth buying as they lack the spicy, aromatic saltiness and succulence you get when you prepare them fresh yourself.
When buying live crayfish, ensure that they bare very much alive. If they seem lazy, it means the crayfish have been lying around for too long, which drains away the taste and leaves the flesh a flabby, sorry thing to eat. Choose big, broad, fat female crayfish, which contains more meat than the thinner males. One person can easily eat 12 crayfish, even double that. For a starter, however, six crayfish per person is fine.
Related: Food and Drink in Sweden
If you have enough crayfish, the best thing is to prepare them in the traditional Swedish manner of the kräft kalas (crayfish party). Even on a normal day, eating crayfish outdoor is a must – a gorgeous, delicious mess, with huge napkins and finger bowls as compulsory. We suggest you try to make a homemade mayonnaise and eat the crayfish with this, together with some crunchy sourdough bread, lemon and fresh dill.
If you wish, a grilled or home-smoked fish, new potatoes and a bowl of rødgrød med fløde will make it an unforgettable and very Scandinavian meal.
And don’t throw away the shells, as they are very good for shellfish stock.
Related: Scandinavian Cooking
How to eat a crayfish
You eat crayfish by twisting off the head and sucking everything possible from it – this is the tastiest part. Crack the claws with a nutcracker, or a special tool designed for the purpose and extract the fine meat – a lobster fork is the best tool for prying it out. As for the tail, you may be lucky and yank it out in one go; alternatively, you can cut open the underside of the shield protecting the tail.
You must remove the intestine, which runs as a thin line along the tail, before eating the flesh in one enjoyable mouthful. You will be glazed with the juices all over – it’s deliciously uncivilized.
Scandinavian Crayfish, written by Tor Kjolberg