Imagine the scene: a little red cottage by a lake that glimmers in the late summer sunlight. A table in the meadow, decorated with lanterns, bunting or little hats with crayfish on them. Welcome to the crayfish Party.
Many moons ago, crayfish were only caught during a specific season in late summer. This came about when a pest nearly wiped out the European crayfish, and for most of the 20th century, catching them was limited to one month of the year. Nowadays, there is no legal issue with catching crayfish, but we Scandinavians do like tradition and most people will still only host crayfish parties during the season – the kräftpremiär – which usually starts the first week in August and lasts for about a month. During this time, most Swedes will attend quite a few of these crayfish parties – enough to feel that they don’t need any more for the rest of the year!
A real crayfish party requires, first and foremost, two things: good friends and crayfish. We usually try to host the parties outside if the weather gods and mosquitoes are kind. A big table is set up and decorated with paper lanterns, crayfish hats and bibs (the bibs are needed as eating crayfish is messy – the hats are just to make everybody look really silly). It’s impossible to look good while peeling and eating crayfish, so no need to try.
To prepare crayfish from scratch requires some nerve as you need to cook them live – you can chill them for an hour or so before cooking so they are asleep, if you find this easier. Do rinse each one before cooking. Around 10–12 crayfish per person is about right for the initiated (less for a novice). Don’t cook more than a few kilos at a time. Bring a very large pan of water to the boil with some sugar and salt (3 teaspoons of sugar to around 2 kg/4 ½ lb. crayfish and around 80–90 g/3 oz. salt) and a few bunches of crown dill (strong-tasting dill that has been allowed to flower). Pour in a bottle of lager or stout and then top up with water. Add the crayfish, making sure they are fully submerged, and cook for about 8–9 minutes, depending on the size. The fish should be cooled in the cooking water, but you need to get it cold fast, so adding the pot to a sink full of ice will help. Refrigerate the fish in the liquid for 24 hours, then serve and eat cold. Most people these days buy the crayfish ready cooked and frozen. It’s a super-easy way to do it – all you need to do is defrost and serve with all the other dishes. It’s minimal fuss and doesn’t take much eff ort for the host, apart from clearing up! The dill flavour is the important bit, but you can always add this yourself.
Serve the crayfish in big bowls on the table. They really are the main star of the event and everything else is just filler. At most crayfish parties people will also eat crispbread, crusty bread, cheese and a Västerbotten cheese tart (see page 93) on the side. This is one of those times when the aquavit comes out again, so I always add some salads and maybe some cooked potatoes, just to be safe. I’ve been to many parties where non-Scandi guests have ended up singing ‘Dancing Queen’ at the top of their voice whilst declaring their undying love to Ylva from Uppsala. It’s a slippery slope.
This extract is from ScandiKitchen Summer by Brontë Aurell.