Crayfish salad with avocado, red cabbage and cucumber has fresh flavors and makes a delightful summer salad recipe that can be eaten as a light lunch.
Whenever I see crayfish at the supermarkets or fish market here in Dubai, I yearn for the crayfish recipes of my childhood.
My father loved to spend weekends and summer holidays near a small fishing village called Paternoster on the Cape West Coast. During the recreational fishing season (usually between November and April) he went to the beach every morning to buy fresh crayfish off the fishermen as they came in with the catch of the day.
One of my most memorable meals was breaking the fast of Ramadhan with freshly caught and cooked crayfish dipped in garlic butter or mayonnaise. My father drove us down to Paternoster on a summer’s Saturday afternoon, after a call to the fisherman Russel and his grandmother, to check whether they had any crayfish for sale. Russel told my father ‘moenie worry nie, ek gaan vars kreef vang vir julle’, meaning ‘Don’t worry, I will catch fresh crayfish for you’.
By the time we reached their home the pot was on the stove and the recently caught crayfish was literally done the minute we stepped over the threshold. It was one of the most delicious meals I have ever had.
How to cook crayfish
I always hated how messy crayfish was to eat when we cooked them whole and had to break open the hard shell.
- Never eat raw or under-cooked crayfish as it may contain parasites called Paragonimus trematodes that infect humans with a parasitic disease called Paragonimiasis.
- When buying fresh crayfish ensure that there is no fishy smell as this would indicate that they are past their prime and may not be safe to eat.
- Cook the fresh whole crayfish in salted boiling water until the shell turns bright red. Remove it immediately and shock in cold water to stop the cooking because overcooked crayfish is rubbery. When it is cooled the crayfish meat can be used in salad or vacuum sealed and frozen for later use.
- Buy fresh or frozen crayfish tails and use these instead of the whole crayfish when making salads. My dad showed me how to cook crayfish tails in big batches without overcooking by following the same process as for whole crayfish above.
- For better flavor use the raw whole crayfish cut up for Cape Malay Crayfish curry. The carapace has very little meat in it and just causes a mess when cleaning but it adds amazing flavor to the curry. The tails are usually left whole or cut into half lengthwise.
- The green digestive gland or tomalley of the crayfish is considered a delicacy but may cause paralytic shellfish poisoning in areas where red tide occurs frequently. My brother inadvertently ate it once and became violently ill with nausea and dizziness. He was allergic to crayfish for twenty years after that incident and has only recently been able to eat it without getting sick.
How to eat crayfish
‘Less is more’ is definitely applicable to crayfish recipes.
- Crayfish salad with fresh ingredients that don’t mask the sweet flavor of the crayfish flesh is ideal. One of the easiest crayfish recipes is Cape rock lobster salad. This can be perked with herbs and noodles to make a Vietnamese crayfish salad or with dill and mustard for a Swedish crayfish salad.
- I learned how to cook crayfish on the bbq one summer using only garlic butter to baste the crayfish halves as they grilled on an open fire.
- Cape Malay crayfish curry is one of our feast dishes at Eid, when it is in season. The fewer spices the better, as it overpowers the sweet flavor of the crayfish flesh.
- When fresh crayfish is not in season I use tails in brine from the supermarket. It’s nothing like the sweet flesh of Cape rock lobster from home, but it lessens the craving.
If you love salads that are not drowning in dressing, then why not check out these other summer salads.
- Chicken salad with cherry tomatoes, olives and artichokes
- Tri-color quinoa salad with pomegranate, walnuts and feta.
- Ultimate summer salad
Crayfish salad with avocado, red cabbage and cucumber
- 250 ml red cabbage (shredded (approximately 1 cup))
- 30 ml rice vinegar
- 1.25 ml Stevia (to taste)
- 250 ml mixed salad leaves
- 125 ml mixed coriander and mint leaves
- 1 small cucumber (approximately 12 cm)
- 1 small sweet snack pepper
- 250 ml crayfish meat (approximately 1 cup)
- 1/2 avocado
- 5 ml lemon juice
- Red pepper flakes
- Salt to taste
- Mix the rice vinegar and stevia and pour over the shredded cabbage then stir to combine.
- Slice the cucumber, snack pepper and avocado and keep aside.
- Pour the lemon juice over the avocado to prevent it from browning.
- Arrange the salad leaves and 2/3 of the herbs on the serving plate and top with the red cabbage.
- Next add the cucumber and snack pepper slices.
- Scatter over the crayfish meat and avocado and pour over any remaining rice vinegar from the cabbage.
- Decorate with the remaining herbs.
- Add a pinch of red pepper flakes and a grinding of salt (if required), then serve immediately.
I used the rice vinegar left behind in the bowl from marinating the cabbage as a dressing on the salad itself.
The lemon juice used on the avocado provided additional citrus notes.
Nutritional information for the recipe is an approximation and varies according to the ingredients and products used.
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