Crayfish, crawfish, craydids, crawdaddies. No matter what you call them, these freshwater crustaceans are a real treat!
While these river-dwelling creatures may be quite common in Northern America and Northern Europe and you may also more easily find them in the Northern parts of Greece, it’s quite rare to find live crayfish at the fish market here in Athens and I’ve not seen them on the menu at many restaurants either. Which is why when I do find live crayfish once in a while I like to serve them whole, steamed in some ouzo, lemon juice and vegetables such as tomato and fennel, and a few slices of crusty bread on the side to truly enjoy the experience.
Sadly, only a relatively small part of the crayfish’ body is edible and they can be quite tricky to peel, which is why in many dishes only the tail portion of the crayfish is served or the shells are used to make a delicious broth. Yet, as every crayfish lover will agree on: if you truly want to enjoy the full experience of eating crayfish, they should really be served whole so that the little claw meat and flavourful juices of the heads can also be enjoyed. To eat the crayfish, simply twist of the head and suck out the juices after which it should be easy to peel off the bottom-side of the tail to extract the delicate, sweet meat. Yeah. They’re messy, they’re a bit of a hassle to open, but it’s something you shouldn’t mind because of how delicious they are!
Note: the recipe below is meant to be served as a meze or shared light appetizer for 2 – 3 people, but, of course, the recipe can be easily multiplied to serve more people or big eaters. When served as a main the recipe below serves 1 person, or 2 light eaters when served with bread or other sides.
Crayfish with Ouzo, Tomato, Fennel and Lemon (Crawfish)
- 1kg live small to medium-sized crayfish
- 80ml extra virgin olive oil
- 250g fennel bulb plus fronds
- 1 ripe, sweet tomato
- 3 spring onions, or 1 small yellow onion
- Small bunch of fresh parsley and/or dill
- 80ml ouzo
- 250ml water
- ½ teaspoon salt, or more to taste
- Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
- Juice of one lemon
- Crusty bread, to serve (optional)
- Prep crayfish: Clean live crayfish by placing them in a colander, or sink and rinsing them really well with water. Optionally, if you want to kill the crayfish ‘humanely’ before cooking them, place them in a bag in the freezer for 2 hours before cooking.
- Prep vegetables: core and thinly slice the fennel bulb. Very finely chop the fennel fronds, tomato, spring onions, and fresh herbs. Set all ingredients aside.
- Heat olive oil in a large lidded stockpot over medium-high heat. Sauté the fennel until it turns soft and starts to brown. Add the chopped tomato, spring onion, fennel fronds and fresh parsley/dill and sauté for another 5 minutes until the tomato starts to fall apart a little.
- Pour in the ouzo and allow alcohol to evaporate for a minute before adding the 250ml water, salt and pepper. Bring back to a simmer.
- Throw cleaned crayfish into the pot of simmering ‘sauce’ and cover with a lid. Simmer for 7 - 12 minutes (depending on the size of the crayfish. Mine in the post above took about 10 minutes.) until the crayfish have turned completely red. Check and stir the crayfish to make sure they are cooking evenly, but don’t remove the lid too often.
- Once all crayfish have turned completely red, take the stockpot off the heat and pour in the lemon juice and adjust seasoning to taste. Toss/stir to allow flavours to combine.
- Serve on a deep platter (to catch all the tasty liquid) with crusty bread for dipping.