Crayfish are a great delicacy highly appreciated in many countries, especially in Europe and the southern United States.
Arranging a special bash entirely dedicated to feasting on boiled crayfish is a popular tradition in the Nordic countries, like Sweden and Finland.
Crayfish parties are held there during the crayfishing season, mostly in August. In Finland, the open season for catching wild crayfish starts at noon on July the 21st and ends on October the 31st. For many, the crayfish season is the highlight of the culinary year.
A pricey delicacy
In the late 19th century Sweden, among the upper class, it became fashionable to celebrate the ending of summer season with a crayfish dinner. This custom, popularised by Parisian bourgeoisie, eventually reached Finland, too.
Picture on right: a plate of cooked signal crayfish.
At the time, noble crayfish were abundant in the waters of Sweden and Finland. In the year 1900, about 15 million crayfish were exported from Finland to European metropoles, mainly Saint Petersburg and Berlin. Since then, the crayfish plague, spread to Europe from North America and with the introduction of the American signal crayfish, has practically devastated the native stocks.
Nowadays, the native noble crayfish in Finland are scarce, making their price very high. The signal crayfish are more affordable, yet still quite expensive, too. This is why cheaper and mostly inferior frozen crayfish imported from countries like Turkey, Spain, China and the U.S.A. are more often used to replace the fresh, domestic crayfish.
Read more about crayfish here.
Organizing the party
Late summer from August to September is the traditional season for crayfish parties.
Weather permitting, the party may be set up outdoors, usually in gardens, on patios, verandas, gazebos, balconies, etc.
Since the warm summer evenings are getting darker, the surroundings are often lit and decorated by hanging up colourful paper lanterns.
Many stores sell (more or less tasteful) matching sets of crayfish party accessories and tableware consisting of everything from dishes, glasses and cutlery to textiles like tablecloths, place mats, napkins, aprons and bibs.
Besides the usual table setting, also special crayfish knives are provided for the diners.
Crayfish are always eaten with the hands, which may be somewhat messy.
To protect your clothing, it is advisable to tuck a napkin into your collar or neckline or wear a crayfish bib made of cloth or plastic.
Lots of paper napkins should be available.
Finger bowls or wet towels should be provided for the guests to clean their fingers from time to time. A slice of lemon or a blackcurrant leaf may be added in the finger bowl to scent the water.
A crayfish knife is used to cut and break the sometimes very hard crayfish shell and claws, and unlike other knives, it is allowed to be taken to your mouth when eating.
It is perfectly acceptable to suck out the juices from the various parts of crayfish and eat them without fearing of making too loud slurping noises.
The atmosphere at crayfish parties is usually very relaxed and informal, including consuming of several schnaps with the food and singing of schnaps-songs (a Swedish tradition also practised among the Swedish speaking Finns). Some Swedes also like to wear party hats.
Picture on right: lyrics for the perhaps best-known Swedish schnaps-song "Helan går".
Some lively entertainment may be arranged for the party: music, speeches, games, trivia quizzes, etc. Providing a step-by-step lesson in crayfish eating, taught to the eager novice by an experienced crayfish eater, is always a sure hit.
Also children should be welcomed to the parties, familiarizing themselves with the art of eating crayfish from an early age on I know far too many grownups afraid of even touching a crayfish, let alone eating one!
Serving of food and beverages
Since the crayfish party revolves around crayfish, there should naturally be plenty of them available. The crayfish are freshly caught or bought alive and cooked on the previous day in a large pot of boiling water seasoned with salt and crown dill. The pot is placed in cold and the crayfish are left to cool in their sieved cooking liquid for several hours or overnight.
On the following day, the crayfish are drained and arranged on serving platter decorated with fresh crown dill. The crayfish are peeled and the tails and the meat inside the claws (if large enough) are consumed on buttered toast sprinkled with lots of fresh, chopped baby dill.
In addition, the crayfish tails may be sprinkled with a few drops of fresh lemon juice and topped with a dollop of smetana or crème fraîche.
Picture on left: shelled crayfish tails and claw meat with dill on hot buttered toast.
If organizing a traditional crayfish party for a larger crowd, it is advisable to serve the more affordable imported frozen crayfish,
only you will need to know the trick of how to make them taste almost as good as the freshly boiled ones. There should be at least 12 crayfish reserved per diner, provided that you will also be serving additional dishes and snacks.
Besides the crayfish, suitable dishes to be served at a crayfish party are various savoury pies, fish, mushroom and vegetable dishes, salads, bread and cheese, as well as some refreshing dessert, like ice cream, parfait, fruit or berry pie, cheesecake, etc.
Also many dishes typical of smörgåsbord may be served.
You should always provide alternative dishes for persons allergic to shellfish or for those who do not enjoy eating them for some other reason.
These dishes may consist of various foods meant to be eaten with the hands, so that the persons eating them can "get their hands dirty" like those fiddling with the crayfish.
The crayfish dinner may be started with a light or a more substantial soup or a slice of cheese, vegetable or mushroom pie or quiche, followed by the crayfish, served with all the trimmings. A more filling dish may be served next, made with fish, meat or game and served with a side dish of vegetables, like boiled new potatoes, broccoli or carrots, stewed mushrooms, etc. Poached or hot-smoked fish may also be served cold.
A sweet dessert may be served at the end of the meal.
Plain or differently flavoured schnaps are an essential part of the crayfish dinner. They are drunk whenever a toast is proposed, preferably in small sips only, since the toasts are usually numerous.
To be on the safe side, stronger spirits like vodka may be slightly watered down, or one can choose to serve some of the many lower-alcohol schnaps products available nowadays. Besides the schnaps, beer and mineral or iced water are the best choices to be served with the crayfish.
If wine is to be served, inexpensive, dry white wines are recommended, of the type of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, etc. Coffee and tea may be served with the dessert.
You will find recipes for some of the dishes mentioned above in here.