Saturday, February 9, 2013

Écrivisse (L') - The Freshwater Crayfish. Crayfish in French Cuisine. Crustaceans III.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan Newman
Updated August 2018

Photograph courtesy of Cuisine à la Française.

Crayfish are tasty freshwater crustaceans, (called crawfish and crawdads in the USA).  They look like miniature lobsters, which they are not; they have not been related to the two-clawed lobster family for the last 100 million years or so. Despite their freshwater origins crayfish are served in French seafood restaurants or at least their tails are.

Depending on the type of crayfish in France they range in size from 10 cm (4”) to 15 cm (6”) in length, sometimes a little larger. A whole crayfish weighs between 60grams  (2.10oz) to 180 grams (6.30oz) from head to tail with the average crayfish weighing 100 grams (3.50oz). Only crayfish tails have any real meat, and that’s about one-third of the total, albeit a delicious 30 grams (1 oz). There is a small amount of meat in the claws of the larger crayfish, but getting that out is hardly worth the effort.
A  crayfish entrée.
When part of a seafood platter or salad crayfish, or their shelled tails, will be served cold. To aid the diner when crayfish are served whole, the restaurant will make cuts along the back of the tail that makes extracting the meat straightforward; If there are no cuts in the tail send them back.  For cooked dishes, the crayfish carapace, the shell, adds a great deal to the flavor, but it is only the shelled tails that will be part of the final dish.

Ready to serve.
In the wild crayfish colors vary from red to black,
and like other crustaceans, they mostly turn red when cooked.

Most of the crayfish served in France are farmed or imported with the best considered to be the pattes rouges, the noble crayfish, followed by the pattes blanches, the white-clawed crayfish. The least expensive crayfish is the écrevisse à pattes grêles, the Danube crayfish and since it’s the cheapest, it is rarely noted by name on menus.

   The Écrevisse à Pattes Blanches
The white-clawed crayfish

In France, this crayfish is both farmed and caught in the wild, though many parts of France have banned catching them in the wild due to over-fishing.

The white-clawed crayfish on French menus:
Ris de Veau Braisé aux Écrevisses Pattes Blanches, Méli-mélo de Légumes Croquants – Braised veal sweetbreads and the white-clawed crayfish accompanied by crispy vegetables. (Méli-mélo means matching, but not contrasting  for both taste and colors).
Filet de Sandre aux Écrevisses à Pattes Blanches et Asperges Vertes – Filet of pike-perch and the white-clawed crayfish accompanied by green asparagus.
Salmon and crayfish  salad
The white-clawed crayfish in the languages of France’s neighbors:
(Catalan - cranc de riu de potes blanques), Dutch - zoetwaterkreeft ), (German –dohlenkrebs), (Italian - gambero dai piedi bianchi, gambero di fiume europeo), (Spanish -  cangrejo de río europeo, cangrejo de patas blancas), (Latin - austropotamobius pallipes)
Écrevisse à Pattes Grêles or  Écrevisse de Turquie –

The Danube Crayfish, the slender-legged crayfish, the Turkish Crayfish, or Galician Crayfish.
This is the least expensive as well as being the crayfish most often seen on French menus though then just called an écrevisse. These farmed crayfish are the smallest crayfish on French menus and rarely reach 100 grams (3.5 oz), that means, possibly 30 grams (1 oz) of meat. When crayfish tails are part of cooked dishes, these crayfish will have been the suppliers. This crayfish was introduced into local waters in the 1960s, and today they are also farmed. 
The Danube Crayfish on French menus:
Filets de Rougets et Queues d'ÉcrevissesRed mullet served with crayfish tails.
Ravioles aux Écrevisses et Pointes d'Asperges – Crayfish ravioli served with asparagus tips.
Écrevisse à Pattes Grêles à la Crème de Radis Rose – The Danube crayfish served with a creamy, red radish sauce.

Velouté d'Ecrevisse au Piment d'Éspelette A velvety crayfish soup flavored with the peppers from around the town of Éspelett in France’s Basque country.

The Danube crayfish in the languages of France’s neighbors:

(German – Galizische sumpfkrebs), (Italian - gambero di fiume Turco, gambero di Galizia), (Spanish - cangrejo de patas punteadas, cangrejo Turco), (Latin - astacus leptodactylus)
Salad of deep-fried crayfish tails.

Écrevisse à Pattes Rouges
The Noble crayfish, the European crayfish, or Noble crayfish;

This is considered the best of the French crayfish and only found in the north of France. When American crayfish were introduced into the wild in France, this species suffered heavily from crayfish diseases brought in. When this crayfish is on the menu nearly all will come from farms.
The Noble Crayfish on French menus:

Morilles Fraîches aux Queues d'Écrevisses "Pattes Rouges" – Fresh morel mushrooms prepared with the tails of the noble crayfish.
Quenelles de Brochet de la Maison aux Écrevisses 'Pattes Rouges' du LémanPike dumplings served with the Noble Crayfish from Lac Leman, Lake Geneva. (Pike are  France's favorite freshwater fish, and pike dumplings are a popular and traditional part of French cuisine).
Écrevisse à Pattes Rouges - The Noble Crayfish

The Noble Crayfish in the languages of France’s neighbors : 

(Dutch -Europese rivierkreeft), (German  - edelkrebs), (Italian - Gambero dai piedi rossi), (Spanish - cangrejo noble, cangrejo de patas rojas. cangrejo de río autóctono), (Latin - astacus astacus).

The Écrevisse Américaine
The American crayfish
This crayfish was imported into Europe and released in the wild in the 1980s where it has established itself well, though often to the detriment of local species. It is rarely seen on restaurant menus, but it is popular with amateur fishermen and women and with its natural population growth that may change.
The American crayfish in the language of France’s neighbors:

(Dutch - gevlekte rivierkreeft), (German - kamberkrebs), (Italian - gambero di fiume americano, gambero americano), (Spanish - cangrejo rojo, cangrejo de río), (Latin - orconectes limosus)
Grande Plateau d'Ecrevisses
A large platter of crayfish.
The most famous French dish with crayfish is Poulet Marengo,
Poulet Marengo, Chicken Marengo with crayfish was originally and uniquely prepared for Napoleon I, (though at the time, he was still a general). The dish is named after the Battle of Marengo, where Napoléon won, for France, one of his many battles with the Austrians in Italy.  The Battle of Marengo, in the Italian region of Piedmonte, was fought on 14 June 1800. That was when battles lasted a day, and by the evening there was a winner and a loser.

 Tradition required a celebratory feast for the commanding general, but Napoleon's cook had nothing to celebrate with. A search for ingredients produced chickens from a nearby village, wild crayfish, and local white wine that were turned into a feast good enough for the future emperor of France.  The region of Piedmont is home to some of Italy's best wines, including the white Moscato d'Asti. In France, the wine most often recommended for crayfish is Chablis; the same wine that is often recommended to accompany oysters.


Bryan G Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010,2013, 2018

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