The flavors of spring are delicate. The first tender emerging shoots and mushrooms usually don’t have the robust flavors of summer’s produce and need careful handling to bring out their best qualities. There are exceptions, of course. The first ramps of the year are thought by many to be the most potent and pungent of the season. But many other wild spring foods – morel mushrooms, fiddlehead ferns, wild asparagus and the like – are best appreciated when lightly cooked and seasoned, allowing their gentle flavors to shine through.
In her book, “A Well-Seasoned Appetite” (now 20 years old), food-writer and cook Molly O’Neill offers a broad selection of recipes and thoughtful essays on eating with the seasons. We’ve enjoyed many of her recipes featuring seasonal foods, both wild and cultivated, but one especially caught our attention recently.
Here is our adaptation of her recipe, “Crayfish with Morels and Asparagus,” which features several favorite spring ingredients. We’ve taken a few liberties to suit our personal taste and cooking style, but it remains largely faithful to the original version. We hope you enjoy it as much as we have.
The tiny, lobster-like shellfish known variously as crayfish, crawfish, crawdads and mudbugs can be found in many lakes and rivers across much of the United States and Canada. If you don’t live near a body of water where you can collect your own crayfish, you can easily find them at a nearby grocery store in the frozen food section. They’re usually already cooked & shelled, which makes this recipe much easier and faster to prepare.
While frozen crayfish may not be quite as tasty as the freshly-foraged crustaceans, they are still very good. If you absolutely cannot find crayfish (or wish to avoid them for some unfathomable reason), you can substitute small shrimp; rock shrimp or pink shrimp work quite well.
Crayfish with Asparagus and Morels
adapted from Molly O’Neill’s original recipe
- 1 tsp unsalted butter
- 4 Tbsp minced shallots or onion
- 6 – 8 medium fresh morel mushrooms (about 3 inches long)
- 1 lb asparagus, medium-sized (not pencil thin)
- 1/2 pound cooked & cleaned crayfish tail meat
- 4 tsp fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 tsp coarse sea salt, or to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Fresh snipped chives, for garnish
Clean the morels by soaking them in cold, salted water for 15 or 20 minutes. This brief soaking will dislodge any grit or forest debris that might be trapped in the morel’s honeycomb structure – and it will flush out any creepy-crawly hitchikers that might be lurking in there too. Drain well and gently pat dry. Leave small morels (1 inch or less) whole; halve or quarter larger morels lengthwise.
Rinse the asparagus and cut the tips off; set aside. Snap or cut off the woody bottoms of the asparagus spears and discard. Steam or microwave the trimmed asparagus spears until tender, but still crisp, about 4 minutes. Plunge into cold water until cool, then drain well and set aside.
Melt the butter in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the morels and cook for about 5 minutes, then add the asparagus tips and continue to cook until tender, about another 5 minutes. Add the crayfish and cook for 2 minutes or until just heated through. Turn off the heat and stir in the lemon juice, adding salt and pepper to taste.
Arrange the steamed asparagus spears on the serving plates, then mound the crayfish mixture neatly in the center. Sprinkle snipped chives on the plate to garnish and serve.
Serves 4 as an appetizer or 2 as a main course.
Many of the ingredients used in this recipe, and other recipes on the Earthy Delights Blog, can be purchased online at our retail website, Earthy.com. We welcome you to visit the Earthy.com website to view our extensive selection of hard-to-find ingredients and our complete Recipe Collection of over 500 tested recipes.
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