Crawfish production in Louisiana is predominately done from crawfish farms. Less than 10% of the production is from wild caught areas mainly in the Atchafalaya Basin. There are two main crawfish species in Louisiana – red crawfish and white crawfish.
Red crawfish far outnumber white crawfish in statewide production. Occasionally both species appear mixed in the same catch. Red crawfish predominate most farms, especially in south Louisiana and in most places in the Atchafalaya Basin. White crawfish are slightly more plentiful on north Louisiana farms and in Mississippi River overflow swamps.
The meat of both species is similar in taste but the fat (hepatopancreas) is much different. Red crawfish fat is orange with a rich flavor; white crawfish fat is greenish and slightly less flavorful.
The larger the crawfish are, the lower the tail meat yield percentage will be. This is because as the animal matures, the head and claws become disproportionately larger. Meat yield will be as high as 20% on medium animals and as low as 8% on very large animals. In spite of this, larger crawfish are much more popular in boiled preparations.
Peeled crawfish meat is usually marketed in one pound, sealed clear bags. It is usually sold with the fat left on the meat for enhanced flavor. It may also be specially ordered for a slightly higher price with the fat washed off for improved storage. Crawfish fat becomes rancid within 2-6 months when frozen.
Live animals are usually marketed in 35-40 pound plastic mesh sacks. Live animals have the lowest shipping mortality during April, May and early June. Earlier in the year crawfish have thinner shells. Later in the year, high summertime temperatures may heat-stress the animals.
Choose a crawfish with a big tail, hold the body and grab the tail. Twist the tail to loosen it from the body and pull the tail away from the body. Pinch the tail just above the fans, this makes the meat pop out from the shell. Pull the tail meat our and enjoy! Suck the head if you want – the spicy juices are great. Or, for the true die hard, stick your pinkie in the body and scoop out the fat.
Live crawfish are typically packaged in plastic mesh sacks at about 35 pounds each. This type of packaging restricts crawfish movements and their ability to inflict damage to each other with their claws and allows rapid cooling and replenishment of moisture. But the open-mesh sacks also allow for rapid desiccation if moisture is not maintained or replenished. Crawfish in good health and held under good refrigerated conditions can be stored up to four to five days without excessive mortality. Live crawfish should be held in refrigerated coolers, either packed with ice or with the relative humidity replenished by daily wettings and/or with moisture-retaining blankets of wet burlap.
Crawfish tail meat that has been cooked and deveined can be frozen for several months. If the tail meat is to be frozen for more than 5 months it is best to wash the yellow fat off of the meat as it can become rancid after prolonged freezing. Package the tail meat in small 12 ounce or 1 pound sealed containers and expel all air before sealing. Thaw in refrigerator for a full day before cooking.
It’s best to use cooked tail meat within a day or two after peeling for best flavor. Freeze the meat if you plan on cooking further out than this.
4 pounds live crawfish / serves 1 adult
10 pounds whole crawfish yields 1.5 pounds of tail meat
Crawfish are classified by size #1’s are 15 crawfish to a lb. or fewer, #2’s are 16-20 per lb.and #3’s are 21 or more per lb.
Live crawfish can be found from November to July, but are most prevalent during May through June. Packaged tail meat can be found at retailers year-round. Be certain to verify the country of origin labeling – some imported crawfish have high levels of antibiotic residues and other substances banned from use in the United States. To be on the safe side always look for Louisiana crawfish.