The red-clawed American Signal crayfish, an invasive species that has spread so rampantly throughout English rivers, a result of abortive attempts to farm them, is a real pest. The species carries a parasite that kills our own much smaller native white crayfish and it is so aggressive to other wildlife that it is now considered by the general environmental community to be vermin. They are also very easy to catch yourself – and fun – and they make an extremely tasty paté as well!
You would actually be doing Britain a patriotic and environmental favour to make and serve this paté at your table. Just behind the lovely Suffolk village of Long Melford is where I catch my plentiful supply; hence Long Melford Crayfish Paté.
There are many recipes around for crayfish paté, but none that I’ve seen have included the essential operation of catching the little blighters, so this is a bit of a first. Hang on in there……
Catching these tasty morsels:
- Take a rasher of bacon from the fridge for each participant of the crayfish safari and put it into an old sock. Clean, but one of the odd socks that always seems to appear in everyone’s sock drawer. You won’t want to wear the sock afterwards because the Signal crayfish claws will make it more holy than Christmas morning. Put a pebble in there as well, for weight.
- Tightly tie a long piece of string (?How long is a piece of string?) to the sock and there is your hunting gear complete and loaded. You are ready.
- You will already have enquired where these creatures are to be found locally, of course. Ask local fishermen (all available genders are included in this non-PC generic labelling) where they can be located. They’ll know only too well. Local free-range-kids will probably know as well, because this is fun! The normal places to find them are weirs and weirpools; they like to be just downstream from rushing water. That’s crayfish, not the free-range-kids. Mind you, kids also like to be downstream….. sorry, I digress.
- Hold on tight to your end of the string, or tie a loop and put it around your wrist so that you don’t let go. Chuck the weighted, baited sock into the water near to the edge and wait a minute or two for it to fall to the river bed and be spotted by your intended quarry. You’ll soon feel a tug. That’s the crayfish trying to get to the bacon. (You can use a mackerel head should you wish, but that’s not quite so pleasant for us humans.)
- Retrieve the string steadily and the crayfish will appear, holding onto its bait with the largest claw, wondering what the hell’s going on.
- Now to get the crayfish onto the bank. You might like to hold a child’s fishing net under it so that when Carl the Crayfish discovers that it has been duped, and releases his grip on the sock, it falls into the net. Gotcha! Or just use a deft and swift flick to get it onto land. Where I catch them, there are people who catch at a rate of 30 or 40 per hour!
- (Actually, I miss out all this entertaining but time-consuming stuff….. I use a crayfish trap (Ebay, about eight quid) left in the river for 24 hours baited with mackerel bones & heads . I roll up to the river, retrieve the trap(s), empty them into a dry bucket, despatching them as I go and five minutes later I’m back in the car with my haul of between ten and fifty crayfish in my bucket. Efficiency!)
- Pop ‘em into an empty bucket. The best way to despatch them is to push a sharp, pointed blade straight down through the head. No, they don’t scream. Just one insertion through the head and they are doomed.
- Remember that these really tasty creatures are now so commonly found that they are actually considered to be an environmental disaster, so whatever happens, they MUST be despatched.
- It is actually prohibited to let them go alive.
- Ok, conscience salved, a bucketload (or however many) of invasive, aggressive red-clawed river-dwellers in hand, get them back to the kitchen.
- Rinse them off, still in the bucket, with lots of cold water. Chuck ‘em into an empty sink and keep your hands away from them. There may still be some life left in one or two of ‘em and you do not want an angry crayfish of whatever size to try to grab your finger. Their claws are very sharp indeed, and they are very strong for their size.
- Boil a big kettle. Get your largest saucepan and scoop them all in. The last ones can be picked out of the sink using forceps or a thick oven glove. Pour the boiling water over the crayfish and pop the saucepan onto the largest ring. Bring to the boil. Ignore the scum on the surface.
- Give ‘em a rolling boil for five minutes and then drain. Rinse with cold water again.
- When cooled enough to handle, break the tail away from the head. Retain the tail. Break the claws away from their limbs and retain the claws. I know that they are small, but that’s fine. You’ll soon learn what’s worth using and what’s not.
- The rest of the pest is waste. Bin it. And whatever you do, please don’t keep that bin-bag of waste in the house overnight. Smelly!
Ok, so you’ve fabricated your own hunting gear, gone to the river, caught your prey and cooked it. You really are a HUNTER GATHERER!
Processing the crayfish
The meat’s still held within a shell. This is the easiest way, I’ve found, of getting it out.
- Tails: Take the crayfish tails and break off the ‘tail end of the tail’, so to speak. Then, using a good pair of kitchen scissors, cut the side of the tail shell away so that the shell can be peeled away in sections. When you get used to this, the shell and legs will come away easily and the tail meat will emerge super-speedily and in one piece.
- Go to the thicker end of the tail meat, find a darker area and pull the vein away from the back of the tail meat. That’s its waste tract. You definitely don’t want to retain that as it’s full of crayfish poo. There’ll be a small flap of tail meat covering it. It’s up to you whether you retrieve that from the intestinal tract. I don’t, because of the time it takes, but it’s your choice.
- There is your lovely bit of tail meat. Go on, it’s like the first podded pea or the first peeled prawn or the first mussel…..scoff it….it’s a cook’s privilege!
- Continue with the others. But don’t eat ‘em all cos there’ll be none for the Paté.
- Claws: Break the tiny pincer away from the claw by bending it backwards; it’s much too small to do anything with, so bin it. Take the scissors and insert the point into the pincer hole and cut both sides of the sharp shell. Cut through so that the shell is easy to pull the two sides apart. Retrieve the chunk of claw meat and put with the shelled tails.
- Remember to put the bin bag of waste into the outside bin.
I know that it’s all seemed a bit long-winded so far, but hey, how much has it cost you so far? A bit of bacon and a sock. And you can re-use the sock. You can use the kids/grandthings as child entertainment/manpower/slave labour to help catch your quarry ….and eat it with you afterwards!
For each 250g of available crayfish meat, you will need:
- 1 small (or ½ a large) onion of whatever colour you prefer
- ¼ of a red bell (capsicum) pepper or long read pepper
- 1 peeled and crushed/chopped clove of garlic
- Fresh parsley (or dried)
- Fresh dill tops (or dried)
- 150g cream cheese (Philly or similar)
- 2 yolks from hard-boiled eggs (or see text)
- 100g butter
- Chilli flakes
- Lemon or lime juice
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Brandy (optional)
- Food processor
- Various bowls
- Put the crayfish meat (NO SHELL) into the processor and LIGHTLY chop. You want lumps/chunks, not a smooth paste. Spoon it into a dish and retain.
- Peel and rustically chop the onion. Roughly chop the red pepper. Peel and crush/chop the garlic. Place it all in the processor with the herbs, a small sprinkle of chilli flakes and then blitz it until finely chopped.
- Add the boiled egg yolks (or just one boiled egg, broken up), soft butter, Philly, cuddly toy, and blitz again. You are really just mixing, rather than finely chopping.
- Leave the liquids and seasoning until later.
- Spoon it all into a bowl and stir in all of the crayfish. Mix thoroughly.
- Taste before adding the seasoning, lime/lemon juice and brandy. See what you think. Make a judgement. There’s nothing that I can put into print that can come anywhere near what your own tastebuds can tell you.
- Add and stir in lime/lemon juice, seasoning and brandy to taste.
- Put into the fridge to set a little. (I suppose you could use a little softened gelatine in the first mix, should you want a firmer mixture, but I generally can’t be bothered.)
- Spread onto fingers of hot buttered toast.
- Make sure that everyone knows that you did it all…..including the HUNTING!