Ville Platte, Eunice, and Mamou lie along the northern edge of crawfish country. If you grow rice it makes sense to raise a few thousand pounds of mudbugs over the winter. After all, crawfish grown on rice are the tastiest. Rice is planted in March or April. Rice grows best in a couple of inches of water. By June the crop is tall enough to shade and keep the water cool. That’s when the farmers add mature “seed” crawfish. Wild ones are the best – you can’t get too much genetic diversity – and there are always a few wily survivors present from last year’s crop.
Rice is ready to harvest in August by tractors pulling combines. Even tractors can get stuck in mud, so the farmers drain the fields in July. When the water dries up the seed crawfish go underground; you’ve seen those mud chimneys, right? Since the water is gone the crawdads are deep underground, safe from tractor wheels. Dry is good for the rice harvest, but too much dry will kill off the crawfish: a couple of good summer thunderstorms are essential to a healthy mudbug crop.
Once the rice is in Farmer Boudreau re-floods the field to something like a one foot depth. The grown-up crawfish in that field come out and play, and soon the little ones hatch. Everybody feasts on the rice the threshers missed, on the rice greens, and on that wide assortment of insects attracted by decaying veggies. Boudreau only has to be sure his field has water until harvest time, usually beginning in January. Crawfish grow to market size in about 90 days if it’s warm, so multiple crops are typical.
Chinese crawfish presumably grow up the same way. Yo, they plant a lot of rice over there! But they don’t taste the same as Louisiana’s or have their texture. I’ve consumed too many of each to not know the difference. I smell a rat, so to speak. I have resolved that so long as we have the dinero or yuan for any kind of crawfish, we gonna buy Louisiana crawfish.
Last week I had a plate of Crawfish Etouffee at the semi-famous Ruby’s Restaurant in Eunice, Louisiana. Kat trounced me by ordering their Fried Shrimp and Catfish plate which was incredibly delicious. My etouffee was good, but Ruby was a tad parsimonious with the fish and seasoning. Imagine that: Jackson, the poor redneck boy, puts more crawfish and pepper in his etouffee than Ruby serves her coonass customers!