Crawfish, also known as crayfish, are freshwater crustaceans that look like tiny lobsters. Their flavor is mild, and closest to that of lobster and shrimp. Crawfish are very popular in the southern states, especially Louisiana, where they are often seen boiled in spices and served with butter and lemon, much like a crab boil. Crawfish are also added to pasta, jambalaya, gumbo, soup, stew, dip and as filling in a po'boy, a traditional Louisiana sandwich. As with any seafood, crawfish are highly perishable and should be consumed or frozen within days of purchase.
Though some crawfish are captured in the wild, most are now farmed in rice fields or ponds. Crawfish are comparable in flavor to lobster; their meat is extremely sweet and a bit fatty. Because they are so small, their meat is quite tender. Most of the meat lies in the tail, but native Louisianans know that there is much more flavor found by sucking the fat out of the body and head.
It's best to purchase live crawfish, and keep them alive until you cook them. Live crawfish are typically a translucent blueish green or brown color, and should be very active and scuttling around. Live crawfish should be kept cool, between 46 and 48 degrees Fahrenheit. They can be stored in a plastic bag inside a large cooler filled with ice, or in an open container in the refrigerator covered with damp paper towels or newspaper. Keep live crawfish this way for only a day or two. Then, they must be cooked.
Cooked crawfish should be bright red, with shells intact, and have a pleasant sea smell. Crawfish can be eaten hot or chilled; the meat is removed most easily when they are cooked. If you cook crawfish from their live state, they must be refrigerated within two hours of cooking. When storing fresh, cooked crawfish, place them in sealed, airtight containers and place in the refrigerator. They will keep this way for three to four days.
The easiest way to purchase crawfish is frozen. Frozen crawfish have been cooked and peeled, and the tails removed and frozen. They will keep this way in your freezer for up to three months. If you cook and peel the crawfish yourself, place them into heavy duty freezer bags, about 3/4 full. Covering the meat with water may help to reduce freezer burn but isn't necessary. Store the crawfish in the freezer for up to three months.