This is my take on a stew like comfort food dish that originates in the deep south of the USA, typically made using sausage and Crayfish as the base of its flavour. The Signal Crayfish is the American cousin of our native British Crayfish. Introduced to the country accidently as escapees from the food trade, the Signal Crayfish can now be found in lots of our waterways. These visitors are not welcomed by environmentalists, as they carry a disease that they hold resistance to, but unfortunately our native crayfish does not.Therefore, if a signal crayfish is caught in the UK, it is an offence to release it back into the water.
Despite the problems that they bring, it’s safe to say they make delicious eating, and are now here to stay, breeding like rabbits once in a waterway they will soon become a dominant resident. This makes them a real pest to fishery owners, and when I asked at my local trout lake if I could take a few for the pot the owner said, “Only if the lake drops two feet by the time you’re done!” So, delicious eating in abundance has been had (for free) ever since. A few traps placed for a couple of days will catch you enough for some good eating, just be sure to obtain a licence from the Environment Agency first.
One of the best things about crayfish, and similar shellfish such as prawns, lobsters, etc is not the flesh but the flavour that can be taken from the shells to make sauces. This is the key to my gumbo recipe, which if you can’t get hold of crayfish can be made using shell on prawns, lobster or even crab as a substitute.
- 1.5kg crayfish in shells (live or cooked)
- 350g spicy sausage
- 1 large Onion
- 1 Fennel bulb
- 2 Carrots
- 3 large Tomatoes
- 3 sticks of Celery
- 2 Bay leaves
- 100ml Rum
- 2 tablespoons Tomato puree
- 1 large Green chilli
- Tablespoon of Plain Flour
- 5 Spring Onions
1If using live crayfish heat a large pan of boiling water, and simply drop the crayfish in for 4 minutes at a time in batches of around 500g until all are cooked (cooking all at once will reduce the temp of the water too greatly, and will result in crayfish not dying instantly and suffering as a result). Once cooled, simply shell them and keep the flesh to one side. Do not throw away the empty heads and shells as these will be used to make the stock base of the gumbo.
2To make the stock coarsely chop an onion, half of the fennel bulb, the carrots, one tomato and the celery and sweat down in a large saucepan with a dash of oil. Once the vegetables have reduced and began to concentrate, add the rum to the pan and light it with a flame to burn off the alcohol. Now add two tablespoons of tomato puree and cook down for a further 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure contents do not burn onto the pan.
3Now add the crayfish heads and shells, mix into the contents of the pan and mash everything together with a potato masher. This will help release all of the wonderful flavours from the shells. Finally, top up the pan with 2 pints of water, stir, cover and simmer on a very low heat for around 90 mins. Finally, strain off the stock through a muslin cloth and set aside for assembling the Gumbo.
4To assemble the Gumbo take a large flat bottomed pan or wok and set over a medium flame. Chop the spicy sausage into small chunks and fry off until nearly cooked through, and the sausage is releasing rendered fat into the pan. Now add the other half of the fennel finely chopped along with chopped green chillies and the rest of the tomatoes and fry them off a little in the fat.
5Now add 2 tablespoons of flour to the pan and stir everything together so that the flour soaks up the excess fat and juices and becomes sticky and paste-like. Now, little by little start to add splashes of the stock, stirring constantly until you end up with a thickened, but loose sauce coating the sausage and vegetables.
6Finally, just before serving add the flesh from the crayfish and some finely chopped spring onions. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
7Serve immediately with boiled rice or crusty bread