It may seem ludicrous to serve an entire crayfish tail for a home meal given the history of the premium price. But we are in strange times that have unintended benefits for consumers.
Crayfish, along with several other products, have been effectively struck off the export list from Australia’s previously biggest market of China. As a result we are seeing prices come down to under $50 a kilogram, which changes how we view using them.
The crayfish I used in this recipe is a tropical rock lobster out of fisheries in the Torres Strait. These are grounds that are worked by Indigenous fishers where the catch had previously been almost exclusively exported. Now with very little local market and a restricted export, the traditional fishers have generally chosen not to fish until the market stabilises. These crayfish are hand caught by free divers in pristine waters – as good a grilled lunch as exists anywhere.
The best part of the crayfish is the flavour from the shell and head. Roasting and crushing the shells to make a sauce really does lift the intensity.
The only challenge with this recipe is the choice of noodle. I have used rice vermicelli, as it responds really well to heavy citrus flavours, and I love using lime over these sweet seafoods.
This year some large fruit and vegetable producers, which have previously required foreign workers for harvest, have resorted to leaving crops to rot and waste. With the already fickle food economies surrounding these large systems, the argument that can justify these decisions may seem rational.
When contemplating a similar scenario for seafood harvesting, the idea of serving an entire crayfish tail for my lunch suddenly seems much less ludicrous than the alternative.
2 x 600-800g tropical rock lobsters
300ml grapeseed oil
3 large tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
3 long red chillies
1 bunch spring onions
10ml tamarind liquid
15g palm sugar
30ml fish sauce
200g rice vermicelli
1 tsp sweet chilli powder
These crayfish are frozen, so allow them to defrost for an hour prior to preparation.
First twist the tail away from the head to remove the meat that is almost entirely within the tail section. Then cut the head in half and remove the gills. Remove the meat from the tail section using scissors to break the shell open.
Remove the waste tract that runs through the centre of the tail meat. (Use tweezers if necessary, although carefully pinching the tract with fingers has a high success rate.) Chop the remaining shells using a heavy knife or alternatively crush them using a mortar and pestle.
Place the crushed shells into a heavy-based pot together with the oil, tomatoes, garlic, fresh chilli, and tops of the spring onions. Cook over a medium heat stirring regularly until the tomatoes turn into a paste and the shells turn a deep red.
Add two litres of water and boil rapidly for 15 minutes, then strain into a separate smaller pot and season lightly with some salt.
Place the crayfish tail meat into this stock and gently poach for about four minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let the contents come back to room temperature before removing the crayfish onto a plate.
The stock will now become the sauce for our noodles. Bring the stock back to the boil and reduce it until it has a rich consistency. Add the tamarind, palm sugar and the fish sauce, then check the seasoning. The quantities of the seasonings are more of a guide as there may need to be adjustment to the sauce depending on how heavily the bones are cooked et cetera. Feel free to adjust as required.
Prepare the rice vermicelli according to the variety’s instructions then strain and roll the noodles through the sauce in this pot. Finish them off with the juice from half of the lime then plate into two shallow bowls. I like these noodles to be a little wet, not quite broth but a little extra sauce.
Place the crayfish tail next to the noodles then sprinkle with the sweet chilli powder. Serve with the extra lime, finely sliced spring onion bottoms and your favourite herb (Thai basil works really well).
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 20, 2021 as "Rule of claw".
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