Table Rock Crawdads
adult crayfish and their young. Researchers are studying the role of crayfish in aquatic food chains and determining the status of several of Missouri's rarest crayfish.
To learn more, you can purchase “The Crayfishes of Missouri” by William L. Pflieger. It is available in softcover for $10, plus tax, at Conservation Nature Centers and regional Conservation Department offfi ces. You can order electronically at online, or by calling toll-free (877) 521-8632. Ask for item 01-0250.
Most of the crayfish taken in traps are large. DiStefano says this because the longpincered species is so aggressive. “The little ones just can't compete with the big ones in getting to the bait,” he said.
Although longpincered crayfish dominate the catch, other species also find their way into traps. These include the smaller Ozark crayfish, the virile or northern crayfish and the ringed crayfishes. These usually top out at about 3.5 to 4.5 inches in body length.
Handling big crayfish can be a challenge. If one latches onto your fi nger, you probably will emit a few words of despair. It's best to shake them through the trap's door into a bucket, then you can handle them with cooking tongs.
My friend Dick Burroughs says he enjoys the Cajun method of cooking crawdads. Dick moved to Kimberling City from Mississippi, but discovered crawdads at an early age in Louisiana.
“Down south we found them in muddy ponds and rice paddies,” Dick said. “Not only are the ones we catch here two and three times as large as the ones we got down south, they are also very clean. We always put the ones we caught in Louisiana in a tub of salt water for about a day to let the mud vein (alimentary canal) clean out. We don't believe we have to do that here.”
Dick is a real expert with the “mudbugs” as he calls them. He and his friends have a number of crawdad boils every summer.
He cooks the crayfish in a 5- to 6-gallon pot with a basket in it. He fills the pot about half to two-thirds full with water spiced with Cajun seasoning and brings the mixture to a boil. He then dumps in whole crawdads, along with some small red potatoes, small onions and whole mushrooms, and lets everything boil for five to six minutes. He'll then add some ears of corn and let the pot simmer for another five minutes or so. When the vegetables are done, the crawdads should be bright red.
To serve, he spreads newspaper or butcher paper on a picnic table. He lifts the basket out of the pot to drain it, then pours the contents on the paper and lets everyone dig in.
His buddy, Tony Root of Lampe, regularly reaps the rewards of Dick's Cajun catfish boils.
“We all pitch in and set our traps so we have a bunch for a cookout,” Tony said.“Needless to say it's hard to keep from pigging out when you have all those crawdads. It's an impressive feast.”
My method is simpler. I soak the tails and claws in salt water for an hour or so before rinsing them and popping them into a pot of boiling water spiced up with a tablespoon of Old Bay Seasoning for every 2 cups of water. I stir frequently for about 10 minutes until the crawdads or pieces turn a bright red, indicating they are cooked.
If you don't relish the thought of sucking up the fat and juices after popping the tail of a cooked crawdad, you can devein the tail before cooking. Simply snap the pincers off and twist the middle tab, called the telson, on the tail fan back and forth and then gently pull on it. The attached vein or alimentary canal should come free of the tail. This procedure also works after the tail is cooked.
Try dipping the pieces in melted butter or cocktail sauce for even more flavor.
It takes about a dozen medium to large crawdad tails and pincers for each serving, but that guideline depends on how they are served. If eaten by themselves it might take two dozen. If used in a stir-fry, a salad or casserole a half dozen per serving will be enough to provide the distinctive flavor of crayfish.
Shucking the tails and cracking the pincers to get to the flesh is a bit of a challenge until you get the hang of it. Having a veteran crawdadder show you the ropes is the best way to get started enjoying them.