Nouvelle Cuisine Crayfish Sauce

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Yield: 1 quart ; Serves


Appears in


By James Peterson

Published 1991

  • About

Although crayfish are prepared much like lobsters and other crustaceans, certain techniques differ. Because crayfish are available whole, the tails can be lightly cooked, and the remaining parts of the crayfish—the head and claws—can be used to create a crayfish sauce base. The basic technique resembles the method used for the preparation of Sauce Américaine. In this recipe the crayfish heads and claws are puréed after cooking and used to prepare a rich, full-flavored crayfish sauce.

If the tails contain an unsightly intestine, it can be easily removed after they are cooked by pinching the tip of the tail and pulling it out.


live crayfish 3 lb 1.4 kg
olive or vegetable oil ¼ cup 60 ml
shallots, finely chopped 2 2
carrot, finely chopped, 1 small 3 oz 75 g
celery, finely chopped 2 oz 60 g
garlic cloves, crushed 2 2
large bouquet garni 1 1
cognac ½ cup 125 ml
white wine cups 375 ml
tomato purée 1 cup 250 ml
heavy cream 2 cups 500 ml
parsley ½ bunch ½ bunch
tarragon sprig, leaves only 1 1
chervil ¼ bunch ¼ bunch
whole butter 2 oz 60 g
crayfish or other crustacean butter 2 oz 60 g


  1. Eliminate any dead crayfish. To do this, spill them out on a large table and quickly sort through them. Throw out any that are limp or obviously dead. Rinse the live crayfish in a colander under cold running water.
  2. Heat the oil in a 5-quart (5 liter) pot and sweat the shallots, carrot, celery, and garlic. When the vegetables begin to soften, add the bouquet garni and continue sweating the mixture for 5 minutes more.
  3. Place the Cognac in a small saucepan and flame off the alcohol.
  4. When the vegetables have softened but not browned, add the white wine and flamed Cognac and bring the mixture to a rapid boil.
  5. Add the crayfish to the pot, cover the pot firmly, and steam the crayfish. While the crayfish are steaming, toss them several times, holding the lid tightly in place, so they are redistributed and cook evenly. Check the crayfish after 5 minutes. When they have all turned red, remove the pot from the heat.
  6. Place a large colander over a bowl and drain the crayfish, reserving the cooking liquid in the bowl and the crayfish, vegetables, and bouquet garni in the colander.
  7. Let the crayfish cool for several minutes, then twist off their tails. Remove the meat from the tails by gently squeezing them to crack the shells and pulling the shells away from the meat. Remove the intestine at this point by tugging gently on the rear-most tail flap. (The intestine should just pull out.) Separately reserve the meat and the shells.
  8. Traditionally, crayfish heads and claws are crushed with a heavy pestle in a mortar, but today a food processor is often used. (If using a food processor, however, be sure to remove the claws from the crayfish—they are extremely hard and can damage the blade.) Put the crayfish heads and tail shells in a food processor and purée them to a coarse paste. Crack open the claws with a heavy pestle or by wrapping them in a kitchen towel and hitting them with the side of a cleaver.
  9. Combine the paste and cracked claws with the cooking liquid, the vegetables and bouquet garni left from cooking the crayfish, and the tomato purée. Bring the mixture to a slow simmer and simmer for 15 minutes.
  10. While the puréed crayfish mixture is simmering, reduce the cream in a saucepan on the stove. Stir it every minute or so to keep it from breaking. Reduce it by one-third to one-half, depending on the desired consistency of the final sauce.
  11. Strain the crayfish shell mixture through a coarse chinois and then a fine chinois. Finally, strain the liquid through a carefully rinsed wet cloth napkin. (The best way to do this is to line a chinois with the napkin, add the liquid, and then carefully twist the napkin at the top. Continue twisting to squeeze out the liquid.) There should be about 2 cups (500 milliliters) of strained liquid.
  12. Add the reduced cream to the strained crayfish liquid. Reduce the sauce more if necessary.
  13. Chop the parsley, tarragon, and chervil with the whole butter.
  14. Swirl in the herb butter and crustacean butter.