The Backyard Boil-up

The first time I saw live crays they were scarpering in all directions on the main editorial floor of The Age, just before deadline. Aaah, those were the days.

2 L water

stock vegetables (carrots, celery, leeks, or whatever)

1 live crayfish (about 1 kg)

herbs, bay leaves, chillies, lemon grass


black pepper


Pour the water into a stock pot, or any reasonably large pot. Fishers do it in the backyard in huge copper vats, or 44-gallon drums. Chop up all the vegetables into reasonably small pieces, and add to the water. Bring the water to a gentle simmer, and add the herbs and the cray (preferably killed as humanely as possible beforehand) to the simmering mixture. The stock is not there to enhance the flavour of the cray, but to ensure that the end result, after you’ve downed the cray, is ripping with life for tomorrow’s soup. Add a little salt and black pepper.


Allow to simmer (take care, because fast cooking here makes the flesh too firm) for 15 minutes (per kg), and leave, off the heat, for 5 minutes. Double the time for each kg over the single kg to two kg, then reduce to 10 minutes per kg. The best check to see whether the cray is done is to tear away one of the larger legs, split, and taste. If the leg’s done, so is the cray. I prefer to have the timing under so there is no chance of ending up with an overcooked fish. Better to put the cray back for more than rue the day you overcooked $50 worth of fish!


Remove the cray from the stock, allow to cool a little and break away the tail and the legs. Slice the shell from the tail, and there’s your cray to do what you like with. If you intend to cook it again – perhaps with pasta, or rice, or simply in a hot pan – it’s best to remove the cray after the 15 minutes, so it will be slightly undercooked. The legs will need longer.