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The crawfish body is large compared to its tail, so you have to peel 1 pound of whole crawfish to get about 2« ounces of tail meat, which is why the meat alone can be expensive. But whole crawfish are not expensive and peeling them for that tasty nugget of meat is what makes the traditional crawfish boil so much fun.

Crawfish are commonly available only near where they are harvested, primarily the Southeast, with smaller harvests in the Northwest and Great Lakes regions. They can be ordered by mail; for example from Tony's Seafood in Baton Rouge, (800-356-2905) Raw crawfish must be alive when cooked because the meat of a dead crawfish spoils quickly. Live crawfish are very active; discard any that are limp and immobile. Cooked, the shells should be brilliant red with no cracks. Shelled crawfish meat is white with red coloring on the surface. You may find some of the dark yellow or orange tinged "fat" at the head end of the meat. It will spoil before the meat does, so tails with "fat" should be used right away.

Louisiana is the country's crawfish capital with a total harvest of over 55,000 tons for the 1992-93 season. The Oregon harvest is mush smaller, about 60,000 pounds for 1993. There is also a crawfish fishery in China, which sends tons of peeled and washed tail meat to the U.S. every year.

Crawfish are generally harvested when they are about 4 inches in length, although they can range from 3« to 8 inches. For a crawfish boil, allow at least 2 to 4 pounds per person.

Pond-raised crawfish in Louisiana become available in early November and are most abundant in march when prices are at their lowest. Wild crawfish hit the market in early December, with their peak in April and May. The Oregon season for the local species stretches from April 1 to October 31. At peak season in Louisiana, crawfish cost about $1.00 per pound. Cooked whole crawfish are more expensive, sometimes as high as $1½ per pound. Peeled tail meat costs even more but it makes a convenient alternative. Crawfish have rich, succulent meat that is delicious eaten right from the shell, plain or dunked in melted butter. Shelled crawfish meat can be used anywhere you might use cooked crabmeat or tiny cooked shrimp.

For the crawfish aficionado, the only way to cook them is boiled with plenty of spices. And the only way to eat them is with your fingers.

Bring a large pot of water with generous amounts of Cajun seasonings to a boil, add the live crawfish one by one (to help keep the water boiling) and simmer for about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the crawfish sit 5-10 minutes to absorb flavors from the seasoned liquid. The longer they sit, the spicier they'll be.

To eat whole boiled crawfish grab the crawfish with both hands where the tail meets the body; bend sideways to separate the tail. Suck the flavorful "fat" out of the body cavity. Pinch the slender tail end between thumb and finger and force the tail meat out through the open end.

Although rich in flavor, crawfish are lean in fat and calories with 1 gram of fat and 77 calories in each 3« ounce portion of meat. A 3« ounce serving has 15 grams of protein, 107 mg cholesterol, 62 mg sodium and ⅐ g omega-3 fatty acids.

Simply Seafood Spring 1994

Submitted By DIANE LAZARUS On 01-13-95

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