Your guide to buying, cooking and eating yabbies

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Brown or blue, when it comes to yabbies, Anthony Huckstep has been in love with their taste since childhood hunting adventures.

When I was a young Huck, our family often spent weekends at my uncle’s farm on the south coast of New South Wales. It was here I learnt the art of cow dung Frisbee (until I picked a pattie that was far too fresh), an appreciation for scones and pikelets, and a love of yabbies.

Armed with raw meat, string and nets, we set traps in the dams under the darkness of night, and by dawn we had a bucket full of pinchies destined for the pot. “Sure, catching brown yabbies in a dirty old farm pond is easy,” laughs John Susman, of Fishtales, “but these are a culinary shadow of the big, blue yabby, the Cherax destructor, that hides in burrows in the Murray, Murrumbidgee and Lachlan rivers in western New South Wales,” he says. A freshwater crustacean endemic to Australia, yabbies are, in fact, natives of New South Wales and Victoria, but are now almost exclusively farmed in dams and specially designed ponds in Western Australia and Southern Australia.

“When it comes to featuring native ingredients, in the words of Indiana Jones, ‘I think it’s time to ask yourself: what do you believe in?’” quips Susman. “Insects, berries and leaves with dubious flavour and texture, or a delicious, unique crayfish who calls Australia home?”

Yabbies take on the conditions of the water in which they grow, and thus can taste quite different from pond to pond and dam to dam. Generally, though, they boast a soft, delicate and earthy flavour, and a firm, not mushy bite.

Growing to around 12 centimetres and 70 grams, blue yabbies are short and stocky with a bright-blue-to-green shell and large, strong pincers that can make catching them a dangerous affair – because once they grab they don’t let go!

“Its flesh is best when cooked from live, in a fast-bubbling 44-gallon drum filled with salty water,” says Susman. “Refreshed in icy water, peeled and eaten with white bread, butter and brown vinegar, the blue yabby is manna from heaven.”

Yabbies are the star at one of Australia’s best restaurants, Bennelong, where chef Peter Gilmore poaches them in their shell, splits them and serves them with buckwheat pikelets, lemon marmalade and cultured cream. It’s the ultimate in luxury comfort food, and a dish that feels right at home beneath the sails of our world famous ‘nuns in a scrum’.

Buy alive. Look for lively yabbies with all limbs intact and no damp-earth aroma.

Yabbies can last for up to a week out of water. Store in a lidded basket and cover with a damp cloth. Cover them with ice to slow them down. Make sure the lid is tight or you’ll find them escaping and en route to the pantry!

Grilled, pot-roasted, poached, baked.

Catching method:

Marron, redclaw

Lemon, corn, caramelised garlic, butter, ginger; also great in curries, salads, on a sandwich or as a filling for pasta.

See here for our Yabbies with apple, radicchio and lemongrass butter recipe.

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