Friday, August 17, 2007

Overfed, oversexed and over here

35 years ago the red clawed American Signal crayfish was introduced to our rivers and streams. Since then it has made itself at home and pretty much wiped out our smaller native, white clawed crayfish, which is now a protected species. The Signal crayfish is a bit of a bully, and it also carries a fungus which is lethal to the native variety. In large numbers they can be a threat to spawning salmon by taking fish eggs. They have been known to wipe out whole areas of aquatic plants and, by burrowing into banks, they can damage the habitat of endangered species like water voles.

So what to do? Well… eat ‘em!

The fishmonger in Shepton Mallet market this morning had a whole bunch of them, from the clear waters of Mells, just up the road. He very generously gave me far more than I needed, and even he treated them with extreme respect.

When I tipped them out of their double bag to take their photograph while the water came to the boil they went crazy, charging around and escaping over the edge of the dish. What is it about snapping claws and numerous legs and waving antennae that reaches deep into the recesses of the subconscious and scares you to death? They are only a few inches long but they’re terrifying. Half my photographs were out of focus because I jumped every time one of them waved at me.

Jane Grigson suggests removing the intestine by pulling out the middle tail fin, before you put them in the pan. She must be joking. I’ll deal with that later.

Rinsed in plenty of water and drained, I plunged them into a big pan of boiling water with a good splash of white wine, half a stick of celery and a generous pinch of salt. I must say, unlike lobster (see post passim) I felt no qualms about sending them to their doom. When they come back to the boil give them four or five minutes and drain. Even in their cooked and pillar box red condition I found myself checking them cautiously for signs of life – just in case. Leave to cool.

The market also yielded a big head of rosy garlic fresh from Normandy, so I think aïoli is in order. And if you want to know how to make aïoli the recipe is here.

Of course, one thing leads to another, and the new season’s crop of Anya potatoes is just in from Cornwall, and they would be so delicious with aïoli too, so…here’s to a little garlic fest!

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