The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Crawfish: Cleaning, Preparing, Peeling & Cooking

Crawfish, also known as crayfish, mudbugs, and crawdads, are small crustaceans that taste astonishingly similar to crab and shrimp, except chewier and meatier. Preparation is just about the same, as well, with just a few exceptions.

In today’s guide to cooking crawfish, I’ve included detailed steps on properly cleaning, preparing, and peeling them. Let’s dive in the world of this crustaceans tasty goodness!

How to Clean Crawfish the Proper Way

In the wild, crawfish live in dirt and mud, so you definitely want to clean them before preparing them. The best way to do so is to purge the crawfish, which essentially urges them to vomit or ‘purge’ any mud and waste in their digestive system.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Deposit the sack of live crawfish in a big container. It can be a large ice chest, a tub, or even a plastic child-sized pool.
  2. Use a large instrument to stir the crawfish in the water to remove any dirt, mud and debris off their shells and gills. You can use the end of a shovel or a large slotted spoon. Do this for about 3 minutes until the water becomes murky.
  3. Throw away any crawfish that float. Dead crawfish can’t be safely eaten as the Vibrio bacteria that line their shells rapidly multiply after death, which causes food poisoning if consumed.
  4. Discard the dirty water and refill the container.
  5. Discard the dirty water and refill the container.
  6. Pour a liberal amount of salt over the crawfish. Regular table salt will do. Leave them for about 5 to 10 minutes but not more as it might kill them. Stir the salt using the same instrument you used earlier to evenly distribute it into the whole batch.
  7. Drain the dirty, salty water and refill the container for the third time with fresh water. Continue doing so until the water is completely clean. Depending on how dirty your crawfish are, it might take another 2 to 3 soaks.

If you’d rather not use salt, you can clean the crawfish without. The process is relatively similar, except instead of leaving them submerged in salt for 5 to 10 minutes, leave them in clean water for 10 to 20 minutes.

Now To Cooking Crawfish

Crawfish are eaten steamed or boiled, with the latter being the most popular. Here’s what I believe is the best way to prepare crawfish. This recipe makes about 10 servings!

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Crawfish

Course Main Course
Keyword crawfish, how to cook crawfish
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Servings 10

Ingredients

  • 2 heads garlic
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 3 large lemons
  • 4 pounds live crawfish
  • 4-5 tbsp cajun flavoured spice mix
  • salt & pepper

Optional Ingredients

  • 10 red potatoes
  • 20 pieces baby corn
  • 1/3 pound fresh green beans
  • 2 onions

Instructions

  • Fill a large 5-gallon pot half-full with water.
  • Add the garlic, bay leaves, lemons, and seasoning into the pot. Bring it to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer for about 20 minutes.
  • Stir in the onions, potatoes, baby corn, and green beans and look for another 15 minutes. Vegetables are optional, so you don't have to add it if you don't want to.
  • Add the crawfish and increase the stove’s heat. Cook them for about 5 minutes until shells turn bright red. If the tail pulls out easily, this means they’re done. Be careful not to overcook the crawfish as they might become tough if you do.
  • Drain the water from the pot. You can either serve your dish hot with steaming vegetables on the side or leave the crawfish in the pot to soak in the hot water for 20 to 30 minutes. The longer they soak, the more flavour they'll have.

How to Peel Crawfish Like a Pro

Once you get the hang of peeling crawfish, you’ll be hooked! While there is no ‘quick’ way of extracting the meat from crawfish, I’ll show you the easiest and safest method to open them right up.

  1. Hold the head with one hand and the tail in the other and extend the crawfish all the way out.
  2. Place your thumb and forefinger on either side of the head. Then, gently twist the head until it separates from the tail. The tail is where all that tasty meat is hidden.
  3. Instead of throwing the head away, some people like sucking on it. While it isn’t as meaty as the tail, it contains delicious juices and fat that are just as tasty. Give it a try!
  4. Using your thumb, start peeling the widest part of the tail. Peel it layer by layer to loosen the meat. Be patient. Just a fair warning: your hand might get a little dirty because crawfish are juicy!
  5. Wiggle the meat out by pinching the tail and enjoy.

And that’s it! You’ll now be able to enjoy that tasty crawfish meat.

Similar to shrimp, you may find a shallow, vein-like trail in the crawfish’s tail. To put it simply, that’s the crawfish’s poop. It’s safe to consume, so you can leave it in if you’d like. If you’re feeling a bit icky about it, you can remove it with a spoon.

There’s meat in the claws, as well, but it’s a bit tricky to get out. If your crawfish is particularly big, it may be worth cracking it open.

Simply grip the claw and twist it off. Then, break the pincher from the leg, again using a twisting motion. Using either your teeth or crab crackers, break the claw just above the pinchers and remove the shell. Be careful not to hurt the inside of your mouth! Eat the meat right off the claw. Delicious!

FAQs

How Much Crawfish Per Person?

It depends on the person! For light eaters, the minimum serving size is 3 to 5 pounds per person. The same is said if you’re adding vegetables, sausage, and other low country boil items.

If you’re serving crawfish individually, the minimum amount per person should be 5 to 7 pounds. Crawfish veterans can consume up to 8 to 10 pounds of crawfish in one sitting!

Can You Eat Crawfish When Pregnant?

According to the American Pregnancy Association, crawfish is considered to have the lowest levels of mercury only averaging 0.033 parts per million and therefore is safe to eat as long as it’s fully cooked.

Pregnant women shouldn’t ever eat undercooked or raw crawfish. Raw shellfish may contain bacteria and other harmful viruses that may cause food poisoning and affect the baby.

When Is Crawfish Season?

For crawfish caught in the wild, crawfish season typically runs from mid-January through early-July, peaking in March, April, and May. Crawfish farms, however, are available for a longer period, from November to July.

Conclusion

Crawfish are loved by many because of their similarities in taste to lobster, crabs, and shrimp. While cleaning, cooking, and peeling takes a little longer to prepare, it’s fairly easy and straightforward.

Plus, cracking the shell open and finally tasting the fruit of your labor is unmatched. I’m salivating just thinking of it!

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Pauline is a mother of four, when she isn't cooking up new dishes for her family and friends, she likes to dine out at newly-opened restaurants (especially tapas!) and review them in her blog posts.
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