Yearning for yabbies

Yabbies; available in a dam or creek near you.
Yabbies; available in a dam or creek near you. Photo: Marina Oliphant.

As a rule, I generally plan a meal around vegetables and fruit, grabbing an abundance of whatever's in season. However, this is a general rule, because my eating seasonally motto also applies to meat – in particular to lamb and seafood (think snapper, whiting and abalone).

To me, summer means not only tomatoes, berries and capsicum, it also heralds the best of freshwater crayfish. Now, no matter which Australian state or territory you're in, you have a version of a pinchy, yabby-like critter in a dam or river system near you. There's the red-claw yabbie in Queensland, for example, or the marron in Western Australia.

I love catching yabbies and have made it a sport for the past 10 years. Many Australians have fond memories of catching yabbies as kids. For me, whenever I head out to the countryside I take at least three nets ready to cast out. Yabbies like nothing more than a stinky old piece of meat.

So when is yabby season? You can catch yabbies year-round, but the best time to try is summer and early autumn. From late-autumn, through winter and into early spring, they bury themselves in the mud to conserve energy, mate and protect themselves.

Over the years I have cooked them in many ways. I've had many an argument about the most humane way to cook fresh crayfish. I believe the method outlined in the recipe below is the best, and should see your fresh-caught yabbies cooked to perfection. It makes a great starter to a barbecue, or if you're out in the country, a simple snack to keep you going if you're fishing.

If you're not into catching your own yabbies or other species of freshwater crays, ask your local fishmonger if he can get them in. Most will be 90 to 120 grams, or about palm-sized. You're likely to pay about $28 a kilogram for them.

Yabbies cooked in beer

1 large camping pot or a cast iron pot, like a Staub or Le Creuset

24 yabbies of good size (throw the small ones back for next year)

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1 longneck of beer (my favourite is Red Hill Golden Ale)

Cold water

1 tsp coriander seeds

1 tsp salt

1 lemon rind and juice

Parsley stalks

To serve:

1 pot of lemoned water for rinsing your fingers

1 loaf fresh sliced white bread or French-style baguette

A good quantity of mayonnaise (you cant go past the kewpie mayo from asian grocers or the supermarket)

1 cos lettuce

Method

To kill the yabbies, place in the freezer for 10 minutes. Insert a knife in the middle of the head just behind the eyes and then pull the knife away from the tail.

Throw yabbies into a pot with the rest of the ingredients and just enough water to cover them. Bring to the boil, then immediately take the pot off the heat. Place a lid on the top of the pot, then let it sit until cooled to a temperature where you can get your hands into the water.

Here you should have deliciously cooked yabbies.

To serve

Once the yabbies are cooked, peel them as you need, add a little salt and pepper to the peeled ones, place onto bread, add mayo and lettuce then sit back and enjoy – perhaps with a cold beer. I do.

Oh, and the lemon water is to rinse your fingers if they get a little, well, greasy (but that is part of the beautiful art of eating fresh yabbies).

Serves 4