Continuing our monthly series of “what’s in season for this month?” we take a look at April.
Several species that were in season for March are still in season now – those include:
Clams, Oysters, Pompano, Pink Shrimp, Snapper, Blue Crab, and Spanish Mackerel. Spanish Mackerel are listed as “in peak season” for Alabama and Mississippi – but certainly the western panhandle is close enough to claim this also. You can read about these by scrolling down the Panhandle Outdoor website to previous peak seafood articles this year.
This month we add a new one that – for some in the panhandle – may not be considered local… but they could be for the western panhandle: Crawfish. Many western panhandlers will make the 3-hour trip to Louisiana to purchase their favorite seafood item, others will wait until shipments arrive at local seafood markets and restaurants, and others still will hold off until the crawfish festivals begin in this area.
Many would not even consider this a “seafood” product – due to the fact that all species are freshwater. However, they are very popular at seafood restaurants and markets – we think of them as we do crab and shrimp. As I was reading about the history of the crawfish industry in Louisiana I learned a couple of interesting things…
It was not until relatively recent times that the commercial crawfish business began. Apparently it was a local Atchafalaya basin favorite – collecting them from the wild when they were available. The first commercial harvest/production did not begin until the late 1800’s and the market was Baton Rouge and New Orleans – here the classic Cajun dish was introduced to the southeast United States and the world.
There are several species of crawfish – or “mudbugs” as some call them – and they are live in burrows within the soils of wetlands – which there are plenty in central Louisiana. They will use their mouth parts and pinchers to remove soil and mud by rolling it into pellets and stacking them at the surface forming “chimneys”. In some cases, the burrows run vertical, in others there are branching channels (or tubes) which are all filled with water. Here the crawfish lives, moving to the surface to feed on leaf litter and occasionally insects and worms. Some species are small, most in the panhandle are, but others are quite large. The most popular for the food industry is the Red Swamp Crawfish (Procambarus clarkii).
During dry seasons, and drought conditions, they are hard to find – and hence the commercial harvest would decline. To counter this, in the 1930’s locals began to farm crawfish. They do this by mixing them within the wet rice fields. They first plant the rice crop in spring, later in summer they “seed” the rice patties with crawfish – these guys have NO problem breeding, so no special steps are needed for this. In the late fall you will begin to see females carrying small baby crawfish on their abdomens. These, of course, would grow and mature in by early spring it is time to harvest them.
To harvest, the locals place small wire baskets baited with fish into the paddies. They collect the crawfish by hand reaching the baskets in shallow draft flat boats or – in some cases – on ATV’s. The crawfish are bagged live and shipped to market.
Like shrimp, there are many ways to prepare crawfish but low boils are a favorite. If you have never had crawfish – visit one of the festivals that are bound to pop up, or better yet – make a trip to central Louisiana where you can enjoy the food and the great culture of the area.