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The Fish Market

Delicious Anyway It Is Spelled

May 22, 1986|ISAAC CRONIN and PAUL JOHNSON | Cronin and Johnson are co-authors of "The California Seafood Cookbook."

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.

Favorite Recipe

Everyone has their favorite crayfish recipe; ours is Pickled Crayfish. This recipe is adapted from a secret recipe used by Jake's Famous Crawfish, a Portland, Ore., restaurant that has been serving crayfish since 1892. PICKLED CRAYFISH

3 pounds crayfish

1 pint vinegar

1/4 cup salt

1/4 cup pickling spice

6 to 8 whole dried red chiles, chopped

1 onion, sliced

6 to 8 cloves garlic, crushed

Juice of 2 lemons

Mayonnaise, optional

Hot pepper sauce, optional

Boil crayfish 3 to 4 minutes in water to cover, then allow to cool.

Meanwhile, prepare pickling brine. Combine 2 quarts water, vinegar, salt, pickling spice, chiles, onion, garlic and lemon juice in large pot and boil 30 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Place whole crayfish in brine and allow to pickle at least 24 hours. Serve cold or reheat accompanied with mayonnaise or hot sauce. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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