Sunday, 27 September 2009

Crayfishing at Minster Lovell

These bad boys are Satan spawn. Intelligent or stupid I can't work it out. A 150mm critter will think it is worthwhile to attack me for example. Super aggressive, cannibalistic, and pillagers of our environment, American Signal Crayfish were introduced into the UK in the 1970's to supply restaurants with their exotic flesh.

This titbit from The Telegraph published in June 2008 says it all:


The female breeds from the age of about two when it is 40mm long.
She breeds once a year and averages 275 eggs.
The eggs are fertilised by the male in October/November.
They are carried by the female folded within her tail until May when the young are released - if they can escape her jaws.The Signal is bigger and more aggressive than native crayfish.
They are less fussy in what they eat and more successful and rapidly colonise new areas.
The Signal carries a fungus which is fatal to native crayfish.
They can live up to 12 years..."

Therefore, I delight in pulling them from the rivers and plunging them into boiling water alive.
One humane way to kill shellfish is to freeze them, so they enter into a dormant state before they die and then boil them, but watching them swim in boiling water just proves their resilience and warrior like temperament.

Last Saturday, myself and my good friend Cai took our seven year old boys down to the river by the ruins of Minster Lovell Hall near Witney for some crayfishing fun. In just over an hour we landed over 20 using a simple technique involving raw meat tied to the ends of pieces of string. I have a lump of venison in the freezer that gets dragged down to the river's edge, then chunks get cut off it, and it is re-frozen after each time we go crayfishing. This lump must be at least three years old. Amazingly still fresh and just pungent
enough to act as perfect bait for these unfussy eaters.

Between us we laid five lines along the river bank, and after ten minutes or so, were pulling one if not two from each line. By the time the five lines had been worked, more crayfish would be nibbling on the first line to start the process all over again. We managed 20 in an hour, and if it weren't for time pressure, I could have kept going all day.

I use white kitchen string with a 2 x 2 cm piece of venison tied to the end. The bait sinks slowly to the river bed, and the colour of the string makes it easier to see if the bait is being nibbled at. I then slowly pull the string so that the crayfish follows the bait until I can get it close enough to the bank to scoop up the catch with a hand held net. So much fun, especially when you get more than one at a time.

A group near us were using small net bags (the type that you put washing tablets in a washing machine), filled with some kind of meat. I have to say that my method intuitively feels better, as the crayfish can properly nibble away at it for a while until you start to pull it towards the net, so they perhaps feel more like chasing it. Who knows. Great fun all the same.

I gave my share of the catch to my friend Cai, mainly because I didn't have the time this particular weekend to shell and prepare the meat. Not much flesh comes from each critter so you need a lot for a meal, at least 15 for a starter or as many as 30 for a main course for one person. There is a good couple of hours de-shelling for this many so make sure you have plenty of time. If you're up for it here goes:


15-20 live crayfish per person

Humane method: Put the catch in a bag and freeze before plunging into boiling water

Sadistic method: Plunge the catch in a very large pot of boiling water (one at a time or the water cools too much and they stay alive for a bit too long)

Once the crayfish have turned orange and the tails are coiled up into a tight ball, remove them from the cooking water and let them cool (or cool them under cold running water).

Break off the claws and remove the body from the tail.

Discard the body, and remove the shell from the tail, pulling out the tube running down the tail as you go.

Using a small hammer, gently tap the claws to crack them so that the shell can be removed and the flesh inside recovered.

Put aside the flesh in a bowl, and gather the fragments of shell (not the bodies) together and rinse them under cold water.

Melt a tablespoon of butter in a frying pan and gently saute the shell fragments in the butter. Strain the shells from the butter and drizzle the shell flavoured butter over the crayfish flesh.

Serve with warm bread and a green salad.

American Signal Crayfish flesh is quite bland in flavour, but this method extracts the crayfish flavour from the shell. A squeeze of fresh lemon or dash of vinegar helps too.

Buon appetito!

(See this article in "theblogpaper")

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