Steamed Crayfish with Cayenne-Spiced Butter

A wide variety of seafood is both extraordinarily popular and available in South Africa.  This spicy starter features crayfish steamed in wine, vinegar herbs, which is then reduced to form the base of a hot butter sauce.  Please note:  To preserve the succulent flavor, the crayfish must be freshly steamed and should not be refrigerated between steaming and serving.  The sauce, too, should be freshly made and spooned over the crayfish while it is still warm.


  • 8 crayfish tails (or substitute large shrimp)
  • 4 ounces dry white wine
  • 2 ounces white wine vinegar
  • 1 dried or fresh bouquet garni (parsley, fennel, thyme)
  • Cleaned butter lettuce leaves
  • Spiced melon or paw-paw
  • Sprigs of parsley
  • The Butter:
  • Stock from poaching cray fish
  • 4 1/2 ounces cold butter, cut in small cubes
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne powder or to taste


  1. Slice the crayfish tails by snipping down the length of the shell–both back and belly–with a pair of scissors.  With a sharp knife cut through the flish and remove alimentary canal.  (Doing it this way is preferable to simply slicing through the shell, which is inclined to damage the flesh).
  2. In a medium saucepan combine the wine, vinegar and herbs.  Bring to boil and add the crayfish, shells down.  Cover and simmer very gently for 4 to 5 minutes until the crayfish is perfectly cooked.  Remove from stock and cover with foil to keep warm while preparing the sauce.
  3. To make the Butter, increase the heat and boil the stock uncovered until it is reduced to about 2 tablespoons.  Remove from the heat, discard the herbs and whisk in the butter a little at a time, until the sauce is silky smooth.  Season with the ground pepper and cayenne.
  4. To Serve, arrange the lettuce leaves on the four serving plates.  Remove the crayfish for the shells, place each piece ont the lettuce and spoon over just a touch of the butter sauce.  Garnish each serving with sliced melon and a sprig of parsley.  Serve warm

Photo Credit: Jj saezdeo, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons