Crayfish or crawfish, regardless of how you spell this lobster-like crustacean, is enjoyed throughout the United States and the world. There are 300 different species of crayfish found on all the continents except Africa. The smallest is the one-inch dwarf crayfish of America, and the largest is the Tasmanian or Maori crayfish, which may grow to eight pounds.
Most of the crayfish sold in the United States is the red swamp crawfish, which is extensively aquacultured in Louisiana. Another major source of crayfish is the Pacific Northwest. Here the crustaceans are harvested from their natural habitat, the slow-moving rivers and their tributaries, which meander through the flat agricultural areas of Washington, Oregon and California.
Sold Whole, Live or Cooked
Crayfish are sold whole, live or cooked. The live crayfish will remain alive for several days in the refrigerator if kept covered with a damp towel. With the recent surge of interest in Cajun cuisine, some fish markets have started supplying crawfish meat, which is quite expensive but a must for Cajun popcorn--crayfish tails deep-fried in a pepper batter.
The tail and the claws of the crayfish contain the sweet white meat, but aficionados are also fond of the crayfish butter, which can be sucked out of the body cavity. The largest drawback to a crawfish feed is the mess generated by all those shells and juice and sweet crayfish butter, which seems to get everywhere. The best way to keep the mess down is to eat over a large sheaf of newspaper so everything can be rolled up and thrown away at the end of the meal.