Crawfish in the Bayou
I am ashamed to say my knowledge of crawdads (also known as mudbugs, yabbies, mudpuppies and crawfish) goes only as far as Buck -- the bright blue one I have in my fish tank at home. I watch him every day, but at no time have I ever thought to eat him because, to me, he looks like a terribly undersized lobster. You would be shot at the docks up North for eating a guy of his size. So this was the first hurdle I had to get over while hunting for these little critters down in the bayou.
Carey Carline, a fourth-generation fisherman, let me tag along with him while he brought in his crawfish catch in Bayou Sorrel. He's a soft-spoken guy, but I was amazed at how he knew every inch of the bayou. He could locate his traps as if he had their coordinates set in a GPS. What struck me most about hunting for crawfish was pulling up to the parking lot along the river and seeing close to 200 pickup trucks, all with the same trailer and a boat off the back. It was an entire fishing industry where each "crew" was just one guy, working his traps by himself day in and day out with the competition breathing down his neck.
The real dangers of the job, though, are getting lost out on the swamp or having an engine quit on you. The cottonmouth, North America’s only poisonous water snake, is also a common pest. They get in the traps, eat the bait and could possibly kill the fisherman as he reaches into the trap. Some guys will bring a .22 on board so as not to test their luck as snake handlers.
Crawfish make for very good eating, but the meat is pretty mild tasting. It's the spices that are associated with Cajun crawfish that really give them their flavor. Maybe I'm spoiled by the Northern Bugs (and don't get me wrong -- I ate heaps and heaps and heaps of crawdads when I was on the bayou), but I think it’s really the Cajun seasoning that makes the darn things taste so good.
To the question of farmed vs. wild: I'll be honest here, too, I couldn't taste the difference. In my book, unless you want the jumbo ones you can only get from the farm, go wild. I wish I had had a little more time to learn if the practice of purging crawfish is at all hazardous to the environment, but from what I could tell, it was low-impact and not of huge concern to the local wild fishermen.
I pride myself in being able to break down a lobster faster than most, but when I found myself in a peeling contest with the fastest crawdad peeler in the state... let's just say I had my New England ass handed to me on a platter. I have never seen anything like it in my life. This guy had some kind of tear-and-squeeze technique that was on par with the skills you see on Coney Island during Nathan's hot dog eating contest!
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