March 2, 2017
We were thrilled to have the opportunity to see the crawfish harvesting process of a local farmer in southern Louisiana. My family went out with him as he picked up the bags of crawfish or “mudbugs” by the rice patties where another gentleman collected them from the cages. I’ll try to describe this unique adventure to ya’ll.
We loaded up in his pickup truck and ventured out on the weed-covered levies that separated the rice patties. The path was just large enough to trust the passage of his truck. On one u-turn we took he warned us that it may look scary, but it would be okay. I was not sure what I was in for as I sat quietly in the back seat. He progressed to have the truck angle steeply into a narrow section barely high enough to cross the water-filled ditch area. I was certain the back tire had to have missed the narrow path, but no issue arose as we curved out on the main road once more.
As we bounced along the levy, my husband, Joel, and the farmer talked of the details of the process, the land, and the techniques of crawfishing and rice farming. Soon we came upon a pallet covered with a damp cloth. We watched as he donned a pair of thick rubber gloves and started loading large green sacks of crawfish into the back of his truck. He used a set of metal prongs that grabbed into the mesh bags allowing him to lift them with ease. While he filled the truck, I leaned in close toward the piles of crawfish. They made bubble popping sounds as they wiggled around ever so slightly.
After he finished, we filed into the truck once more and jostled our way across the road to another set of levies and rice patties. Off in the distance we saw a strange-looking boat. It resembled a cross between a duck boat and some kind of “Willy Wonka” styled contraption. One giant paddle-type wheel in the front dug into the ground ahead to propel the boat forward. On the back of the boat was a set of small tires. Hydraulics lowered and lifted the front wheel enabling this shallow-bottom boat to drive across dry ground and then enter the next rice field. A canopy of white and red shaded the worker inside as he lifted and emptied the cages and filled the sacks. Then in the same spot he also re-baited and dropped a new cage down in a smooth continuous motion. Down and back he went all day long gliding along in that funny boat.
When we finished picking up all of the crawfish bags, we headed into town to the wholesaler. While we waited in line to have the bags weighed and stacked, I was introduced to one of the owners of the family-operated business. She described the operations and told of all the many places the crawfish went from there. When it is crawfish season, things are extremely busy with the constant bustle of people coming and going. The farmers not only dropped off their day’s catch, but also picked up the next day’s crawfish bait of fish. Truckers and customers would also come to take the fresh mudbug sacks or even purchase some fresh boiled crawfish well seasoned complete with potatoes and corn.
Being we had never sampled crawfish before, they were so nice to give us a sampling of this southern delicacy to take home with us. When our business was done, we left once more for the fields to drop off the bait fish. While the farmer unloaded the fresh stash of fish, I watch as the worker cut them in half. The fish were packaged and frozen together inside a large crate which had to be separated before slicing. I stepped back out of splatting’s way as the worker raised a large sledgehammer over his head. He proceeded to wallop the crate in several places freeing individual fish. Once it was to his liking, he raised a V-shaped blade by the long handle (like a paper cutter style of knife) and sliced the fish in halves or thirds depending upon the size. The cut fish slid off into five gallon buckets which were then placed in the refrigerator to thaw for the next day’s work. This was messy, smelly work.
With all of the deliveries completed, we returned to our trailer once more. Upon arrival, the farmer showed us how to make a typical dip for the boiled crawfish and how to peel them. The farmer eyeballed ingredient ratios for the dip, but I watched closely to see the approximate amounts. I was the first brave soul to try the method out after watching the gentleman’s example.
The process is as follows:
Break the head and body away from the tail.
2. With both hands, extend the tail straight and squeeze with your fingers to crack it along the back.
3. Peel the first two or so layers of the top shell off. This wraps around and takes some legs with it.
4. Grab near the tail region pinching it firmly. With the other hand, gently pull the inside tail meat out.
5. Some people take the dark vein off the back, but that is optional.
6. Dip the tail into the Crawfish Dip and eat.
7. Some people enjoy sucking the fat and juices out of the head region as well. (I was not up for that one.)
With the memories of the Main lobster experience, the rest of the family was hesitant. The family finally stepped up and got their hands messy in the boiled food. However, my youngest was very reluctant. He never enjoyed getting his hands dirty but agreed to eat one if I peeled it. I did so for the first one, but made him do it by himself on the subsequent ones. Once he got going, he reluctantly accepted it. I believe he was consoled knowing the dip had a lot of ketchup in it and made sure to smother the morsel with as much as he could fit on both the crawfish and fingers.
The afternoon’s real life classroom was a great experience for the entire family. We enjoyed the company of wonderful people as we saw, heard, smelled, felt, and tasted the crawfish, those “mudbugs” that bring the families and communities of southern Louisiana together.
I listed the makeshift recipe for the crawfish dip below. We later used leftover dip as a sauce to top our fish sandwiches that night. Have fun with your next meal using this Cajun-inspired dipping sauce.
Until we meet again,
1/4 c. Mayo
1/4 c. Ketchup
1-2 Tbsp. Worcestershire Sauce
hot sauce- to taste
Blend all together and serve.