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Posts Tagged ‘cherax destructor’

Yabbies (Cherax destructor), a basic dipping sauce and mangoes – a relatively light start to the recent Christmas feasting

Yabbies (Cherax destructor), a basic dipping sauce and mangoes – a relatively light start to the recent Christmas feasting

Mangoes, croissants and prawns. Whether it is a tradition or a strong memory, I really couldn’t say, but that is Christmas morning food in my mind. A relatively light starter on a day that, by necessity, needs to anticipate some serious stuffing. And I was intent on putting it on our December 25 breakfast table last year (as in, last week). The mango stays (and to be honest, it is probably the least negotiable of all). Croissants easily give way to the Squeeze’s family tradition of chocolate pancakes. This is our family’s American side and, at their best, they do pancakes that can genuinely make a mockery of the imitations most of us Australians and Kiwis know.

But for prawns, despite doing a lot to keep myself informed and engaged on the issue, it remains all too hard to work out which particular array on a fishmonger’s iced shelf may or may not be part of an oceanic Armageddon of which I want no part. They all look like prawns and therefore like they are delicious, but how do I pick the signs of outrageous bycatch slaughter and waste or Southeast Asian wetland destruction in their empty spiny visages? In the absence of reasonable labelling requirements, an unreasonable amount of consumer effort is the answer. I understand that there are some sustainably and ethically harvested prawns out there, but practically, it becomes easier just to leave them all be.

What we call a yabby  - but in appreciation of the American pancakes (not pictured, sorry), and that we are a half-American family, let’s call these ones ‘Christmas crawdads’

What we call a yabby – but in appreciation of the American pancakes (not pictured, sorry), and that we are a half-American family, let’s call these ones ‘Christmas crawdads’

So, I have switched to foraged yabbies (Cherax destructor). Prawning with a hand net is on my list of planned foraging adventures, but until that day, yabbies are my closest accessible foraging bet. And, what is more, I prefer them. These from the NSW Southern Highlands (actually lowlands in the middle of the east, but so named for being marginally more southern and higher than Sydney). They may live in still murky water, but they still manage to taste like flowing rivers as long as the actual mud gets purged before the pot. And that is a precious taste, all too rare in dry old Australia, of what we sometimes call ‘sweetwater’.

Much like a prawn, you extract the tail meat from the shell, pull out the digestive line (“poo vein”) and dip the meat in a sauce that frequently involves mayonnaise. Unlike a prawn, you also get a couple of claws to get into – approached as you would a crab claw (cautiously if alive and with gusto if cooked).

Yabbies Cooked

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The yabby, Cherax destructor

Heading down to a friend’s farm to fish for trout yesterday I was warned that they may have been fished out. Because they don’t breed there, success can only come so many times on the stock of 100 fingerlings that went in a few years ago; and successes are now quite firmly believed to be over, at least until new stock arrives and has time to grow. The excuse of ‘no fish to catch’ may normally be a poor one coming from a fisherman, but in this case it may well be true. Trout or no trout, a lunch had been scheduled and a lunch would be had. Luckily I had picked up some saffron milk caps (Lactarius deliciosus) on the way, and ever better, he had thrown in some yabby (Cherax destructor) traps overnight. They were purging in the sink when we arrived.

Purging in the sink to lessen the amount of ‘poo-vein’

Cherax destructor sounds more like a Japanese manga character than a food, but for whatever reason it is so named, the destructive part can be applied to its effect on dam walls. It will burrow deeply and with just one dam that already leaks, it is for this reason that we haven’t put any in on our land. In fact we are lucky not to have them already really, given their ubiquity in most southeastern Australian waterways and ability to spread by simply marching off overland (especially during floods like our recent ones). Wild harvesting of them can be problematic as the traps usually used can also trap and drown platypuses and turtles and they are now banned in many places. You certainly wouldn’t want to use traps in a river where these bycatches might be a risk, but a farm dam known to be platypus-free can be trusted to get nothing but yabbies. The last time I had traps was in England, where their efficacy on the reviled introduced American signal crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus) served me so well I had considered quitting work and going commercial with them.

The cooked yabbies

Parboiled and thrown whole on a barbecue to finish works well. Boiled, shelled, ‘poo-vein’ removed and sizzled in a pan with butter and garlic or as an ingredient in something more complicated is also pretty fool proof. Or in our case yesterday, shelled at the table and into a lemon, garlic and mayonnaise dipping sauce. Another species eating first for the Boy (along with a two year old’s delight watching them alive in the sink), and one of those memory-stirring meals for me.

Update: They have now been found in our dam, for better or worse.

For more crayfish tales, I’ve come across a great American one here

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