In Sweden and Finland, midsummer madness means one thing: a crayfish party. Forget lobsters or rubbery mudbugs drowned in gumbo. There are some 500 species, but the best-ever is called the noble crayfish it's sweeter and more delicate than the cheaper, smaller but hardier signal crayfish, an invasive American immigrant. Simply boiled with sweet dill, it's the pinnacle of Nordic gourmandise, and here's how to have a proper blowout.
During crayfish season, which runs from July 21-Sept. 15, book a table at NJK, a beautiful old yacht club in Helsinki. Crayfish must be ordered ahead. Six to eight per person are fine, especially as they cost about $10 each. Find the NJK dock in the harbor and raise the wooden signal flag. The club's private launch will come to take you to the 107-year-old white pavilion on Valkosaari Island.
Your table will be festooned with stacks of crayfish-red napkins, and a silly bib with a cartoon crustacean is standard issue. Butter a slice of toast and scatter a bit of dill on top. Dissecting a crayfish calls for dexterity and patience, but it's worth it. Don't forget to savor the best part, the buttery softness inside the head, which has a voluptuous sweetness. Arrange the tail and claw meat on the toast, tucking sprigs of dill flower in between. Meanwhile, the schnapps glasses will be brimming with kosken-korva, aquavit or Finlandia vodka, and it takes a steady hand not to spill a drop. Protocol calls for one shot of schnapps per crayfish, accompanied by rousing crayfish drinking songs. If you don't know the words to Helan Gaar, your alma mater fight song will do. Skaal! www.royalravintolat.com/njk/index_eng.asp