Friday, October 28, 2011

SEAFOODS OF BRAZIL - Crayfish (Pitu)

Sort of a halfway-step between shrimps and lobsters, with some traits more like the former and others more like the latter, crayfish (or crawfish) are just as delicious as either of their cousins. They have a bit more meat in their tails than do shrimps and have a particularly sweet and intense flavor that the larger lobster often lacks.

There are two words in Brazilian Portuguese for this little creature - langostim and pitu - and the choice of which one to use is largely regional. Langostim is clearly of Romance origin and is related to the French langoustine, while pitu comes from the Native-American indian language tupi. Pitu is used more in the north and northeast of Brazil, while langostim is more common in the south and southeast.

Just as there are two words for crayfish, there are actually two different species which share the name. One of them, Macrobrachium carcinus, is a fresh water species, and the other, Metanephrops rubella, lives in salt water. The fresh-water variety is found in great numbers in the thousands of rivers which lace the Amazonian basin, and the salt-water variety can be found in the seas from the south coast of Brazil to Argentina.

In Brazil, crayfish are cooked in almost all the ways that shrimps and lobsters are - steamed, braised, cooked in soups and stews or even grilled. At simple thatched-hut beach restaurants all along the coast of Brazil, a bowl of whole crayfish simply cooked in a seasoned broth of coconut milk, onions, chili peppers and cilantro is a favorite mid-day snack - eaters pull the crayfish apart with their fingers and pry the meat out of the tail and claws, sucking on the smaller legs to extract the last little bits of goodness.

The tupi word pitu is also the brand name of one of Brazil's most popular brands of cachaça. The classic Pitú label, which has been around since the thirties, prominently features a crayfish. Pitú is cheap and rough - it's not a connoisseur's cachaça. It's the drink of laborers and outdoor workers. Pitú can be found in almost any of the small streetfront bars in working-class neighborhoods in Brazil, and workers on their way to work, or on their way home, pop in for a pinga - a shot - to gear themselves up for a hard day's work or to relax themselves afterwards. Pitú-brand cachaça is exported to North America and Europe where it can be bought in specialty liquor stores for many times its Brazilian price.

Even though crayfish can be substituted in most recipes for shrimp or lobster, we'll publish in upcoming posts a couple of the most popular Brazilian recipes which specifically call for crayfish.


  1. OMG, I haaaate cachaça, ahahaha! I only like it in caipirinhas, but still, I prefer a caipiroska, which is a caipirinha with vodka. Caipiríssimas are made with rum! Did you know that?

  2. I Love Pitu.Never make caipirinha with anything else than cachaça.