New Zealand crayfish are prized for their exceptional quality, both at home and abroad — where they’re something of a luxury dish. Of those exported, Chatham Island crays are renowned for their buttery and mild-sweet flavour — a reflection of the cool nutrient-rich waters in which they mature. So now you’ve got your hands on a crayfish, how do you ensure maximum flavour and freshness during preparation? We wade through some of the dos and don’ts, so you get the most out of your cray.
Cooking frozen crayfish/tails
If you’ve purchased frozen crayfish, like our Frozen Crayfish Tails, you’ll need to defrost them before cooking. This should be done slowly by placing your cray in a covered dish in the fridge for 12-24 hours. Like most seafood, crayfish flesh is delicate and sensitive to changes in temperature — water thawing and other quick-thaw methods will likely spoil the crayfish and your stomach.
Once thawed your crayfish is ready for cooking, which, depending on your recipe, can be done a number of ways. A common method that will be familiar to many kiwis involves putting the crayfish/tails in a large pot, filling it with sea (or salted) water, bringing it to a boil and cooking for 10 minutes (a larger cray may require an additional minute or two). The trick here is to not remove the cray until the shell has turned bright red. Remember that crayfish meat will continue to cook out of the pot. One way to combat this is by placing the boiled cray in a pot/sink of ice for a minute or two before serving.
Storing/freezing fresh crayfish
When it comes to preparing crayfish every fisherman has a tale to tell, though most agree on how best to store it. Upon leaving the ocean, crayfish should be placed in a saltwater ice-slurry and moved into a freezer as soon as possible. If you’re planning to store your catch for an extended period, it’s a good idea to precook it before freezing. This will help protect the meat and lock in flavour for up to six months.
To do this, you’ll need to kill the crayfish (see below), before separating the tail from the upper body by grasping each and twisting them apart. Place the crayfish tails into a salt water-filled pot and bring to a boil, before cooling, packing and freezing.
Cooking fresh crayfish
If you’re planning to eat your crayfish fresh you’ll need to kill it before cooking. The most humane way to do this is by placing it in a small container of water for half an hour. Eventually, the crayfish will drown as oxygen in the water is depleted. Once deceased, make sure you clean the crayfish in freshwater. From here it’s ready for cooking — either by boiling, as above, or another method like steaming, pan-frying, wok-frying, grilling or barbequing.