Swedish Crawfish Salad

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crawfish salad with pumpernickel bread
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

If you are an American, you probably think that the title of this post is a bit odd. Scandinavian crawfish salad?

But make no mistake: If there is a crawdad-eating culture that can match the Cajuns, it’s the Scandos. And high summer is the season for them in Sweden and Finland.

Crayfish eating is done with much ceremony in a Swedish kraftskiva, and, much like a New England lobster boil or a Cajun crawdad boil, there are certain things that must be included: The crayfish are always boiled in salty water with lots of dill; usually the flowering heads of dill, which have a stronger flavor. Anise can go into the boil, too, as can a few other spices. Sometimes beer makes its way into the boil.

Oh, and the Scandinavians tend to eat all of the crawfish, including the claw meat. They even have a special crayfish knife for the purpose. Very few Americans I know bother with the claw meat, but as you can see, it can be well worth the effort with a big crawdad:

crayfish claw meat
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Beer, or more likely aquavit — a ferocious, caraway-flavored liqueur I mostly associate with nearby Denmark — is the drink of choice here. Lots of it. Apparently a Scandinavian crayfish party is really more of an elaborate drinking game than a meal. Everyone wears party hats and is supposed to take a shot of aquavit or schnapps between each crayfish. And a normal serving of crayfish is about a dozen. Uff-da.

A dozen? Crap, I can eat a dozen crawdads in maybe 5 minutes. Shelled, I could eat that in a mouthful. OK, a big mouthful, but you get the point. It’s the dozen shots that would do me in. I can’t drink like I used to, which is probably for the best.

So where does this crawfish salad come in? Well, apparently even the Scandos can’t drink excessively every day. But they do love their crawfish, and their season is short, from late July to early September. Light, lovely crawfish salads show up all over Scandinavia, and this is my version.

I know what a few remaining doubters out there might be thinking: Blech, Scandinavian food? First off, it sure as hell ain’t German food. (And for the record, German food is not as bad as its reputation.)

And second, I might remind any doubters that for several years running the best restaurant on the planet has been NOMA, in Denmark. Scando food — real Scandinavian food — is light, carefully constructed and studded with unexpected flavors, some imported since the Viking days.

Give this salad a go on your next hot summer night. And if you can’t find crawfish, those pretty little cocktail shrimp (which are sustainably caught in North American waters, by the way) are an excellent substitute, as is king crab.

crawfish salad recipe
5 from 3 votes

Scandinavian Crawfish Salad

Crawfish salads are pretty common in Scandinavia, although this recipe is my own. If you want to make this salad but can't get crayfish, use those little cocktail shrimp from Maine or the North Pacific. Serve this salad with pumpernickel, cheese and either a crisp white wine or a lager beer.
Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: Scandinavian
Servings: 6 people
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients 

  • 1 pound crayfish tails and/or claw meat (cooked)
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onion
  • 1 cup seeded, chopped cucumbers (peel the skin if it's bitter)
  • 2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
  • 2 teaspoons mustard
  • 4 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

Instructions 

  • Put the crayfish tails, red onion and cucumber in a bowl. Mix the horseradish, mustard and mayo together, then mix into with the crayfish. Stir in the dill and add salt and black pepper to taste.

Nutrition

Calories: 81kcal | Carbohydrates: 2g | Protein: 2g | Fat: 7g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 16mg | Sodium: 95mg | Potassium: 71mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 16IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 11mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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13 Comments

  1. Leaving live crawfish in the cooler overnight will purge them like explained above. A good fresh water rinse before cooking is a good idea, but don’t leave a large quantity in plain or salt water unless it is filtered/aerated like the tanks you see lobsters or crabs in at the market. They will live well in a standard home aquarium also, but they like to crawl out of the tank and walk across your floor.

    When we cook them cajun style, you boil in seasoned water for 5 minutes or so like Hank states, then put chunks of ice in the water to stop the cooking but let the seasoning soak in for another 10-15 minutes. Same could be done with dill infused water.

  2. Est: Uh… where am I bashing Scandinavian food? I cook Scando food all the time. I think you are misreading this post. What I am saying is that many Americans think Scandinavian food is brown and heavy.

  3. Might have an answer on purging the crawdads. My guess is that the die off was due to lack of oxygen in the holding water. I found a great site that deals with all things crayfish https://www.trapperarne.com/.

    The following is an excerpt from his article #12 “Cooking Crayfish” ( https://www.trapperarne.com/articles.htm )

    Purging Crayfish
    But first of all, don’t do anything for a day or two. Nothing? Yes, nothing. But you must keep the live crayfish cool and moist in the meantime, maybe in a cooler or even a refrigerator.

    Now, why would you do that? To purge the critters. Purging crayfish, crabs or lobsters too, for that matter, is what cleans out their sand vein; in other words, their large intestine. If you don’t, the intestine along the top of the tail, will lie there black, fat and sassy. If you cook them without purging first, and that’s all right too, you can pull out the intestine just before you eat the crayfish tail. It’s quick and easy.

    But many of us don’t like to see that black intestine, so here is what you can do. Leave the crayfish in the cooler or other container for a day or two while you pamper them with moisture – not water – and cool temperatures [NOTE: in his FAQ he says he uses ice]. What happens now is simply that they go to the bathroom, so to speak, and after a day, two days for sure, their intestine turns clear and you can forget about it.

    Some believe in purging the crayfish by keeping them in salty water for a while. My experience tells me that doesn’t work.

  4. I remember leaving Copenhagen some forty years ago and going into Duty Free and buying maybe a half dozen different of whatever it really is called, all liberally laced with caraway. Has to live in the freezer to get the best out of it. though.

    I am sending this recipe to my niece now camping on the east shore of Tahoe so she and her son can take advantage of it. Thanks!

  5. Down in LA when we purge them we usually pour salt on them while we soak them in water right before boiling. We’ve done this since I was young and I don’t remember ever killing very many of them. Now does it actually work? Who knows. I think soaking them in water them draining it and repeating works fine. To be honest I’ve never really noticed a difference in crawfish that were purged and those that weren’t.

  6. Ed: Yeah, purging is mostly to clear the digestive tract. But I find that purging them is fraught with problems – I’ve never figured it out without getting a huge die-off. And you can’t cook dead crawfish — it’s the same with lobsters and crabs.

    Anyone know how to purge crawdads without them all dying?

  7. Hank,
    I’m reading more about cooking crawfish. Some sites recommend purging the crawfish before cooking them (keeping them in clean fresh water for a couple of days). Is this just to clear the digestive track or is it to remove a muddy taste if they came from muddy water. Any recommendations?

  8. Michael: You normally start with pre-cooked crayfish shells. But if you are cooking your own, I drop the crayfish into boiling water. Then, when the water returns to a boil, I cook for 5 minutes. The Swedes tend to let the crayfish steep in the dill-infused water overnight, but I think that overcooks them.

    And yes, I save the shells for stock.

  9. It’s a shame that people don’t bother with the claws. The claw meat is amazing! It does take a bit of work, though

  10. In the recipe, you mean tails, not shells… right? How long do you boil crayfish for? (And is it a boil, or a simmer?) Do you save crayfish shells for stock?