Category Archives: Recipes

Invasive Ingredient: Removing the rusty crayfish from Ontario waters, one étouffée at a time

Like many Ontario children, I learned about crayfish at camp, overturning boulders in streams, and chasing the flipping tails as they disappeared into clouds of silt. In those days, Ontario was home to seven species of native crayfish, including the large, fastwater species, Cambarus robustus, the cryptic burrowing crayfish, Fallicambarus fodiens and the tiny Orconectes propinquus.

Little did we know that the impact we had on the crayfish population was nothing compared to the simultaneous and sinister arrival of the invading crayfish, Orconectes rusticus. This Ohio native was brought across the US border into Ontario by eager bass fishermen as bait, dumped overboard at the end of a day of fishing and left to successfully reproduce.


There is nothing better than spending a hot day with pants rolled up in a cool stream, net in hand, on the lookout for fast-moving decapods.

According to the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters’ website,, the success of this invasive species has much to do with its ability to both avoid the predation of fish and destroy the underwater vegetation which serves as habitat for fish spawning. To make matters worse, they reach a large size much more quickly than their native counterparts, enabling them to outmuscle natives for available rock shelters, says Dr. Premek Hamr, a crayfish biologist and expert on this invasive species. (Full disclosure: he also happens to be my partner.)

If they are good enough for bass, couldn’t rusty crayfish be good enough for human consumption, too?

In her article, “Appetite for Destruction” (Hemispheres magazine), Jodi Helmer describes the way chefs in the U.S. are using four introduced species in their menus. In particular, chef Bun Lai in New Haven, Connecticut is reported to be collecting the introduced Asian Shore Crab to use in a seafood stock and as a garnish in his sushi restaurant.

I asked Francine Macdonald, Senior Invasive Species Biologist at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, whether she thought that a similar initiative could work in Ontario. “Well I am not much of a foodie,” she laughs, “but certainly people have eaten the rusty crayfish.” I asked Macdonald whether she thought there could be any roadblocks to the use of rusty crayfish in restaurants, knowing that the regulations for possession of crayfish as baitfish had recently changed.

rusty 47

Nicknamed the rusty crayfish, Orconectes rusticus can be identified by the distinct rust-coloured spots on either side of its thorax. Photo credit: Premek Hamr

“The regulations allow for a fisherman to carry 36 live crayfish, but only on the water on which they have been caught,” she says. “It is illegal to transport them across land.” Thus it becomes important to cook crayfish as close as possible to the water’s edge, in order to avoid any misunderstanding regarding transportation of an invasive species across land.

The crayfish boil is a southern tradition that our family had long ago adopted in our efforts to single-handedly wipe out the rusty crayfish from the Ouse and Indian Rivers, in Peterborough County.

Low country boil

Low Country Boil. Photo credit: Tom Lecuyer

Joe Roman, a conservation biologist from the University of Vermont, has started a campaign called “Eat the Invaders” to bring attention to the delicious possibility of putting invasive species where your mouth is. Luckily for the residents of Sparkling Lake, Wisconsin, postdoc researcher Gretchen Hansen has been catching and cooking rusty crayfish there for over eight years. On, she reports having reduced the density of that species to about 1% of original numbers. Her favourite recipes are Crayfish Étouffée and a Low Country Boil. Both are traditional recipes which can be found on However, you can’t do much better than having your hand held as Ed the Crawfish Master walks you through your paces at

One of the differences between Ontario crayfish and their saltwater cousin, the lobster, is that crayfish need the addition of salt when you boil them, but they don’t need to be overpowered with spice, as do the muddier Louisiana crawfish.

Scandinavians celebrate the opening of the crayfishing season, Kräftskiva, with our family’s favourite way to season the mild and sweet flesh of the Ontario crayfish, kräftor med dill. The recipe, found on, uses a simple broth of dill, beer, anise and salt. Chased with aquavit of course. Skål!


You don’t need to be Swedish to enjoy the traditional crayfish party, Kräftskiva, celebrated every August.

What you need

  • A valid fishing license and Outdoors Card (a conservation license will do). In Ontario, anyone under the age of 18 can fish as long as they are in the company of a licensed fisherman over 18.
  • Handheld dip net
  • Bucket
  • A portable propane burner that can support a one-gallon pot of water.
  • Salt
  • Dill
  • Observe your local laws if you are considering bringing beer or aquavit to your shore lunch

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Homemade pasta: the no-machine method

Take heed, university student: if you have flour and eggs at your house, you have pasta.  And if you have olive oil and garlic as well, you have dinner. The amounts described below are approximate. As a rule of thumb, you need about 200 g (1 cup) of flour for 2 eggs. That makes enough pasta for two people.


  • 200 g (1 cup) all-purpose flour – if you live in a neighbourhood with Italian goods, choose ’00’ flour
  • 2 large eggs (If your eggs are small, you can add a teaspoon of tomato paste to each small egg. The result is red pasta)
  • fresh garlic and extra virgin olive oil (optional)


1. Make a mound of flour in the centre of your clean working space.

2. Make a well in the centre of the flour, and break two eggs into the well.

3. Use a fork to break the yolks and stir the eggs, gradually incorporating the flour into the mixture, a bit at a time.

4. Once most of the flour has been incorporated into the eggs, knead the dough until it begins to have a glossy appearance.

5. After kneading, leave your dough covered with a dishtowel for at least 30 minutes. Kneading caused the gluten in the dough to tighten up, and now you are letting it relax. This is an essential step. While waiting for the dough to relax, start thinking of what sauce you will put on it later. A very simple solution is to sauté some garlic at low heat in olive oil (gently – garlic burns easily), and stir it into your cooked noodles later. If you have some parmesan, get grating.

6. Cut the dough into two pieces. You are going to be rolling out one piece at a time, so keep the other piece covered, so it doesn’t dry out. Each of the pieces of dough serves one person.

7. Roll each piece out as thinly as you can, with a rolling pin or empty wine bottle. It helps to roll from the middle outwards.

8. Once rolled out, use a knife to slice noodles into ribbons. Try to keep all of your noodles approximately the same thickness, so that they will cook at the same rate.

9. Repeat rolling and cutting for the remaining piece of dough. If you don’t feel like rolling the rest of the dough, you can keep it in a plastic bag in the freezer for another day. Remember that the dough will need time to thaw and relax before rolling later. If you want to keep rolling, but don’t want that many noodles today, you can hang the extra noodles to dry over the back of a chair overnight. The shapes and sizes of pasta noodles each have their own name. If yours look like this, you made fettucine.


Here, I cut all of my remnants of dough into random shapes, which are called stracci:


10. Set a pot of water to boil. Once boiling, drop in your noodles and leave the lid off. Check your noodles for doneness every two minutes. Noodles are done when they are “al dente“, meaning that they are soft, but are still firm to the bite. Fresh noodles cook very quickly so be careful!

11. Strain noodles and stir in some sautéed garlic and oil (this is called aglio e olio in Italy). Add some grated parmesan or parsley, if you have some – if not, no worries. You are done!

P.S. If anyone tells you that there is no protein in your dinner, just tell them you had an egg. It’s true.

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Risotto is easy

It always surprises me when I hear people say that risotto takes a long time to make, or that it is fussy. I credit Jamie Oliver for introducing me to real Italian risotto, and I have riffed on his recipes ever since. I admit that my first attempts took me a while to make. However, now that I have made my own pared-down versions dozens of times, I can make risotto in 25 minutes, from chopping board to table. The trick is to prep your vegetables between stirs, while the rice is bubbling. Here’s my quick Mushroom Risotto, with a note about adding meat for the carnivores:


  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 litre (4 cups) broth (your choice)
  • 2 cups of assorted mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 spring onions, chopped
  • 30 g (1 ounce) of parmesan, grated
  • salt and pepper
  • optional: bits of leftover roast chicken or smoked meat


1. Start a litre of broth simmering gently at the back of your stove. I use a good quality organic vegetable broth from concentrate. It is your choice, depending on what flavours you want to throw in at the end.

Rice with wine

2. In a separate saucepan, sauté arborio rice in a glug of olive oil at medium high heat. A cup of rice will do for four people. Once the rice is coated in the hot oil, pour in a cup of white wine – it will let off plenty of steam and smells divine.


3. Stir while the rice absorbs the wine, then pour a ladleful of broth into the pot. Give it a stir from time to time, while you sauté some mushrooms in a separate pan. I used shitake, button, oyster, porcini and nameko, but use whatever you have available.

4. When each ladleful of broth is almost completely absorbed, you can add another and continue stirring. Meanwhile, save time by chopping some spring onions and grating some parmesan between stirs. We will use these later.

5. Once you have stirred in the final ladleful of broth, and have given the rice a chance to absorb most of it, you are ready to add your main flavourings. In this case, we are using sautéed mushrooms and spring onions. Throw them into the rice and give them a stir. At this stage, you could add to this risotto by throwing in leftover diced roast chicken or smoked meat, if that is your thing. Take your risotto off the heat while it has a loose and glossy consistency.

6. Stir in the grated parmesan and adjust your seasoning. Done in 25 minutes!

Mushroom risotto8


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