September 9, 2013
Do crayfish feel pain? I don’t know. They have a nervous system that controls both voluntary and involuntary movements, but do they feel pain? I couldn’t find an online source that discussed crayfish pain. I have no answer. Why is it important to me? I don’t know, but I began to wonder about it in 1997.
In November of that year, I was visiting the Hostellerie de Vieux Moulin in Bouilland, France. At the time, the restaurant was under the command of Jean‑Pierre Silva. One of the dishes he taught me involved half a dozen crayfish tails. Since, at the time, I had no source of crayfish, I didn’t bother to take notes, and I no longer remember any details about the preparation. What stuck with me was that the intestine was removed from the tail—what is actually the abdomen of the crayfish—while the soon‑to‑be‑cooked decapod was still alive. The process, I learned, was very simple. I just grabbed the telson—that’s what looks like the central fin of five fins at the end of the tail—twisted it ninety degrees, and pulled. I could feel a little tearing as the telson tore free. When I pulled the now‑free telson, the entire intestine slid out of the tail. The action didn’t seem to produce any reaction in the crayfish. Did the crayfish I just disemboweled feel any pain? I doubt it, but I still wonder.
Every few years, I run across a bin of live crayfish in a market. They’re never very expensive if you only consider the unit or per pound cost and not the yield. I always buy at least a handful. That was the case a couple of weeks ago. A month or so before, I had prepared a jar of ponzu sauce and had planned to use it with some oysters for an amuse‑bouche
. The recipe was to be based on one for sugaki
that I found in a “Cooking with Dog” YouTube video
. Then the crayfish walked into the scene.
The ponzu sauce recipe makes about 200 ml (7 fl oz) of sauce.
100 ml (31⁄2 fl oz)
Meyer lemon juice
100 ml (31⁄2 fl oz)
Japanese soy sauce
3 g (0.1 oz)
1. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate for 24 hours.
2. Strain out the solids and discard. Store the sauce in a sealed jar in the refrigerator.
To the prepare the crayfish for this quick amuse‑bouche, I brought a large pot of water to a boil. At the same time I heated a tablespoon of ponzu sauce. In the same motion that I used for dropping the crayfish individually into the boiling water, I twisted the telson and removed the intestine. Once all the crayfish were in the water, I removed them all at once and set them aside to drain. They cook very fast.
For each one, I twisted the tail from the body. The body was run under water to move any ghoulish material. I use a pair of scissors to cut the tail on the underside down the center. Then by gently spreading the shell, I was able extract the tail meat. Any frilly bits of meat were trimmed with the scissors.
I brought the already warm ponzu sauce to a boil. The crayfish bodies and tails were “reassembled” on the individual serving dishes, and a piece of tail meat was draped over the junction of the two pieces of shell. A little ponzu sauce was drizzled over the tail meat. Finally, a couple of thin slices of green onion top were added for decoration.