Crawfish, crayfish, mudbugs, yabbies and crawdads are all the same freshwater crustacean, the name just depends on what region of the United States they're in. Crawfish look like very small lobsters, and are eaten steamed or boiled.
What Are Crawfish?
Crawfish are small crustaceans that live in fresh water and are similar in flavor to shrimp and lobster. Approximately 95% of the crawfish consumed in the United States are harvested from Louisiana, but they're popular all over the world from Sweden to Spain to Nigeria. You can find this common crustacean crawling around in swamps, rivers, and lakes all over the planet.
How To Cook Crawfish
The most popular way to cook crawfish is to boil them. Bring a large pot of water to boil and then place crawfish in a cooking basket and lower into the bubbling pot. Let cook for 15 minutes, then turn off heat and let the crustaceans sit for another 15 minutes. Then you're ready to plate, just let them cool off a minute before you dive in. You can also add them to a dish like jambalaya or etouffée.
What Does Crawfish Taste Like?
Crawfish meat tastes similar to a combination of lobster, crab and shrimp, with less salinity and more sweetness. Traditionally prepared crawfish often includes Cajun seasoning, which infuses the meat with notes of paprika, cayenne, garlic, oregano, and other ingredients.
Crawfish Vs. Prawns
Though crawfish go by many names, calling them prawns would not be accurate. Crawfish and prawns are both crustaceans, but prawns have branching gills and live in salt water, and crawfish have featherlike gills and live in fresh water. Flavorwise, a crawfish tastes more like a lobster. Prawns taste more like shrimp, though they're smaller and sweeter.
Most crawfish are boiled or steamed, then eaten on their own or added to a dish.
Where to Buy Crawfish
If you live where crawfish are harvested, you can find them year round at grocery stores. Otherwise, they'll be most readily available each spring. Many online marketplaces will ship them frozen on ice.
Frozen crawfish should be kept in the freezer until you're ready to defrost and cook. Keep live crawfish in an open bucket of water until ready to eat. Fresh crawfish that are no longer alive can be store in a container in the refrigerator for up to two days, and the meat extracted from them can be frozen in a zip-top bag or airtight container for up to three months. Avoid re-freezing frozen crawfish, as this will have an adverse effect on their flavor and texture.
More than 500 species of crayfish have been cataloged, but most of the crawfish eaten in the United States are red swamp crawfish and white river crawfish. These two species can cohabit the same body of water, and there's not much difference in the flavor or how to prepare them.