My Buddy Gabe was telling me he saw some
on sale not too long ago.
There were marked
Product of the People's Republic of China.
Is There Nothing Sacred Anymore?
Red Gumbo? Commie Jambalaya?
Oh I can hear Hank Williams spinning in his grave!
"They Just Don’t Taste Good"
by Jeff Seigel
The sigh in Frank Randol’s voice speaks volumes.
“What happens,” says Randol, a Lafayette, La., restaurateur and crawfish entrepreneur, “is that people will go the grocery store, and they’ll buy crawfish tails and cook them, and they’ll taste bad. And then they’ll figure that crawfish aren’t any good and that Cajun cooking isn’t any good.”
What isn’t good – and anyone who has taste-tested them will attest to this – are the packaged Chinese crawfish tails that are overrunning the American market. This spring, at the height of crawfish season, be wary of the Asian imports. They look the same, are packaged in the same way (usually complete with a Cajun-sounding brand name), and cost anywhere from one-half to one-third the price of the Louisiana product.
That combination has helped them replace Louisiana tails not only across the U.S., but also in the lucrative Scandinavian market. The situation is so dire, in fact, that some observers are wondering whether the almost $100 million, mostly family-run Louisiana crawfish industry can survive the onslaught.
In the late-1990s, sales of Louisiana tail meat dropped 80 percent over three years, and as many as 60 processors closed. Crawfish must be peeled by hand, so cheap labor allowed the Chinese to export almost 9 million pounds (one-fifth of the entire Louisiana crop, live and processed) to the U.S. Since then, the federal government has accused the Chinese of dumping crawfish at below market prices, and a number of importers have been fined. But the law authorizing the fines is about to expire, and if it isn’t renewed, the industry could crash again.
The irony is that the Chinese farm the same crawfish that's raised in Louisiana, which they got in a trade exchange in the early 1990s. The difference in taste, though, is obvious:
• Louisiana crawfish are parboiled just long enough to separate the meat from the shell. Chinese crawfish are boiled longer, which makes peeling easier, but which also leaves them rubbery and bland.
• Crawfish live in water, and an aficionado will claim that the water that produces the sweetest crawfish is in south Louisiana, on either side of the Atchafalaya River.
• Packaged Louisiana tail meat includes more crawfish fat, a crucial ingredient in flavoring stews, bisques, and etouffees. A traditional crawfish etouffee doesn’t use a roux; rather, the tails finish cooking in the fat (which has been augmented by onion, green pepper, and celery).
• Some Louisiana officials are convinced the Chinese add something to the boiling water to rid the crawfish of any impurities. Roy Johnson of the state’s agriculture department says testing here hasn’t turned up any additives, but notes that the crawfish don’t contain normal background bacteria, hence a suspicion they have been boiled in something stronger than water.
Which is just one reason why the crawfish bisque at Randol’s – crawfish tail meat ground up and stuffed into the shells, then simmered a roux-based gray – uses Louisiana crawfish. Taste, he says, is all.