A Midwesterner’s guide to eating crawfish

Crawfish. The tiny fresh-water lobsters that are the rage in the south. As a Midwesterner, opportunity was lacking to try them. Since I was in the South, and they were in season, I knew it was time.

Preparing for my feast, I met a number of locals who weren’t completely new to this food. Their advice, don’t be shy or afraid to ask the waitress how to eat them. One local told me he got mad at a couple and showed them himself, because they “were wasting all the best meat.” This was a great suggestion.

Ordering my dinner, I asked my server a coupe questions. Is three ponds of crawfish too much for one man (it was their nightly special). No, it’s the perfect amount for one person. What beer goes best with these? An IPA. Finally can you show me how to eat them? Yes.

When the platter of crustaceans arrived, my server – and multiple patrons who learned I was from Wisconsin and never had crawfish before – instructed me on the basics. Being a complete newbie, I didn’t realize that the tail was the edible part. They’re basically like shrimp, but with heads and claws.

My server game me helpful hints. There is a distinct separation between the head area and the tale. To separate the two, squeeze both areas, and push in on the tail section. Twist slightly and pull from the tail. You can feel a crack in the head area, and the twist pulls out most of the meat. Put the head aside for now, we’ll get back to that.

Take off the first section of exoskeleton. This might be a little difficult, due to the legs. Remove those as well until you have a piece of the delicious meat visible. Dip this in either butter or sauce, put it in your mouth and suck. If you do it right, you can feel the end meat come out from the tail. Otherwise, you’ll need to break open more of the shell. As a beginner, you’ll need to do the second a lot.

Once you’ve consumed the meat comes the fun part. Toss what remains of the tail in the bucket, and grab the head. Before discarding, you will want to “suck the head” as my server told me. The juices from the broil reside in there, and are a nice addition to the meat.

It took a couple of demonstrations before I learned the technique. A dozen more before I felt like I was close to perfecting it. But by the end of my plate, I felt like a pro. Even the locals admired how far I’d come in a short amount of time.

After consuming my platter of crawfish and multiple napkins, my hands smelled like fish. A pro tip from the server: take a couple of slices of lemon and squeeze them on your hands. It will reduce the aroma better than even soap and water can. Also, use plenty of the later.

Once you get the knack, crawfish are a simple food to consume, even if they are daunting at first. Follow these steps and talk with your server to get the most (meat) from your crawfish dinner.

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Jason is a writer and photographer. He has been published on Madison.com, Beloit Daily News, The Capital Times Mashable and CNN. You can follow him on Twitter @The_Dean.

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