This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
There are two or more kinds; the river or fresh-water crayfish, which may be found in any shallow creek or brook where cresses grow; it is used for fish bait, but never thought of as an article of diet in this country. The other is the saltwater crayfish, black with red claws while alive; it is to all intents a small lobster, the same in shape and formation, and turns red when cooked. This crayfish or crawfish is but three or four inches long. It is well understood and appreciated by the French inhabitants of Louisiana and an article of regular supply in their markets. And it is an interesting crustacean on account of its prominence in the whole system of French cookery. Truffles and crayfish tails - crayfish tails and truffles - the twain are almost as certain as pepper and salt to be met with in every dish with a name in any foreign menu.
Pyramid of crayfish; plain boiled in salted water with onions, parsley, pepper, white wine or cider, cooked for 10 minutes; served cold, built up on a napkin folded around an inverted champagne glass to form a cone; decorated with parsley.
The crayfish well washed and alive; a stewpan is set over the fire and these preparatory ingredients are fried in it: 3 sliced onions, as many mushrooms, 4 oz. lean ham cut in dice, 2 cloves, garlic, parsley thyme, bay leaf, salt, white and cayenne pepper. When all these are fried light brown half a bottle of cbablis or claret is added and a wine glass of vinegar; when boiling, the crayfish are thrown in, covered with a lid and boiled 12 minutes, frequently stirred up. Liquor is then strained off from them, thickened with flour and butter; tomato sauce added to it, poured over the crayfish in a deep dish, fried shapes of bread around.
" Ecrevisses of the smaller kind are also extensively used in the French cuisine for garnishing. The 'poulet a la Marengo,' the 'tete de veau en tortue.' the 'saumon a la Cbambord,' the 'matelotte d'anguilles, the 'pate chaud a la financiered would be ignoble and inartistic plates without the embellishment of crayfish. In France and in Germany, where they are abundant, crayfish is considered a very dainty article of food, and in a dejeuner of any importance, or an elaborate supper, a Buisson d'ecrevisses always occupies a prominent place on the table. In Paris the craze for them is such that they are hawked, ready cooked, about the streets, the price varying from a penny to six-pence each. The best crayfish are caught in the rivers Meuse and Rhine. Crayfish butter and crayfish tails are also well spoken of; but the most historic use to which the little river lobsters have been put, is that of making the famous potage known as 'bisque.' Bisque is as old a soup as 'potage a la reine.
Crayfish have always to be prepared for cooking by removing the intestine which would make them bitter; it is done by picking the extreme end of the center fin and with a sudden jerk withdrawing the gist containing the gall. The bisque is a puree of crayfish and rice. Made same as bisque of crabs (which see), finished with butter, Madeira, red pepper, and the tails of the crayfish reserved for the purpose. (See Bisque).