Crawfish, crayfish, crawdad, Astacus Astacus — whatever you call it, rapu is a true Northern delicacy. Crayfish and crayfishing are steeped in tradition — while fishing, while cooking, and most definitely, while eating.
Crayfishing… wait, what?
We’ll get to the fishing bit later, but let’s talk about the feast itself. Typically, at least six crayfish per person starts the evening, followed by e.g. steaks, salmon or something more traditional, like Jansson’s Temptation. If you’ve got more than 10 crayfish per person to go around, they become the main course.
Crayfish are consumed slowly, and always in company. The cooked crayfish are allowed to cool in their broth for a few hours or more, and are served cold. We usually use only salt, a bit of sugar, and dill to season the broth (but you can also add porter in the mix.) This way, the delicate taste is preserved.
Each crayfish is like a miniature lobster, and is treated with respect. First the savoury broth is sucked out of the shell, the tail and claws are opened with special crayfish knives to get to the tasty meat, which typically is piled on buttered toaster bread, sprinkled with freshly cut dill — and savoured.
The first tail is toasted with Vodka, or Aquavit (or whatever rocks your boat) and traditional songs are sung to further the merry proceedings. After the first tail, just keep on opening, sucking out the broth, assembling more claws & tails on your toaster bread…. and enjoying the company, the songs, and of course the booze, beer & wine.
The season starts yearly at noon on 21 July, and crayfishing is subject to licensing. Crayfish used to have a minimum length requirement of 10 cm (4 in) nose-to-tail, but not anymore. However, anything below 8 cm (3.5 in) should really just be released back immediately. With luck, you’ll meet them a few years later.
To catch crayfish, most use passive traps, although some prefer active crayfishing. As for the traps, there are quite a few models, but the two seen here are the most popular models.
As bait, most use either fish from the same lake or river or slices of beef or pork.An insider tip is to use bratwurst or frankfurters (like we do). A split crayfish will work extremely well, but it’s about as expensive as it gets. In the olden days, apparently village cats started to disappear towards the end of July…
The traps are set at a depth of around 2-3 meters and left overnight.
The next day, traps are checked, small crayfish are immediately released back, the bait is replaced and the traps are again lowered to the bottom of your lake, the riverbed or the seaside.
That’s about all you need. If and when you find a good spot, just put the traps back for the next night in the exact same location. Crayfish are competitive, so if you had the luck of setting your trap near a crayfish’s hiding place, and got a good catch, a new crayfish will take over that spot almost immediately. Crayfish favor a rocky bottom with plenty of places to hide in.
Sidenote: Finland and crayfish — success to bust to minor success
100 years ago Finland was Europe’s biggest exporter of crayfish, with a yearly catch over 10 times that of today. Finnish crayfish was widely recognized as a true treat. That, of course, was before the crayfish plague wiped out most of the crustacean population. And the introduction of the nearly as delicious American Signal Crayfish didn’t help either (as they carried the disease, quite possibly being the original vector). Stern measures have been taken to limit the spread of the disease, and the native crayfish population has been rising slowly the last decades. The best way to stop the spread is to never move your traps from one body of water to another. And if you absolutely must do it, you need to kill the plague spores — which happens by keeping the traps for 12 hours in a fully heated sauna (or by letting winter take care of business).