The following column appeared in the Feb. 22 edition of The Sanford Herald
There are so many different things that can go wrong when having live seafood shipped overnight from five states away. More than half of those things happened to me this week.
Did it ruin the end result?
Well, I suppose you’ll have to read the whole column to find out. (No skipping ahead).
This week, I ordered 40 pounds of live Louisiana crawfish as part of a surprise for my wife — a native of Louisiana and lover of crawfish who misses both. Yeah, yeah, I know I’m a great husband … this is obvious. But that’s not why I’m writing this.
I’m writing this because I may never, ever order live crawfish again.
Or will I?
I’m forgetting that some of our northern readers may not know what a “crawfish” is. You may know them as “crawdads,” “crayfish” or “mudbugs.” In Louisiana, they’re considered “fish,” which is probably why they’re able to charge so much for them without developing a guilty conscious.
You can find crawfish in some creeks in North Carolina, but they’re probably no bigger than your thumb. The ones that burrow themselves in the dirt on the bayou grow to the size of mini-lobsters … some with claws larger than your thumb. I have the cuts and scrapes on my fingers to prove this.
Several companies in Louisiana offer overnight shipping of crawfish — mostly for the Louisiana transplants in other states. The creatures are packed tightly in a sack, crammed into a styrofoam cooler with dry ice and sent off to their destination via FedEx, UPS or whoever else doesn’t mind stinking up the back of their trucks.
Did I mention that? They stink … at least when they’re alive.
I received my package Friday morning for Friday night’s surprise. That’s when “Thing That Went Wrong No. 1” occurred. I was called by FedEx two hours before my shipment arrived and was told the styrofoam was damaged.
“I’m calling you, sir, because I know there’s fish in there, and the box was damaged,” the nice FedEx lady told me.
“They’re not “fish,’ they’re “crawfish,'” I answered. “They’re alive.”
“What?” she replied, confused.
“Never mind,” I said. “Just go ahead and ship them. I’ll check them when they get here.”
And that’s what I did. The box arrived, one side tore to shreds as if someone took a bat to it. I opened the box with the FedEx delivery guy standing over me.
That’s when the smell hit.
“Whoooo,” the delivery guy said. “What died?”
“They’re alive,” I answered.
“What?” he asked.
“Never mind,” I replied.
Turns out, a little fresh air from the torn-up box probably helped more than hurt. “Thing That Went Wrong No. 2” was the temperature on Friday. I had to keep the crawfish outside throughout the day, and temperature readings were in the 30s in the shade … almost enough to kill the crawfish (you don’t want to boil dead crawfish. Trust me).
So throughout the day Friday, as we prepared the other parts of the surprise, I was worried about a kiddie pool full of mini-lobsters freezing to death on me. Turns out, they were resilient little suckers, and when it came time to start cooking, they were still kicking (and pinching).
Enter Bad Thing No. 3.
Our rented burner and propane tank wasn’t providing enough heat to boil a 40-gallon pot of water. It didn’t help that by the time we started the boiling process, it was 32 degrees outside.
It was after watching a pot of water NOT boil after 30 minutes that I almost gave up. I was just going to have to chalk it up to a “good idea,” though poorly executed.
Thankfully, our friends’ house — where we had this little party — had a fire pit in the backyard. The crawfish managed to hang on to life for another 30 minutes in the freezing cold as we readied the pit, and soon enough, the water was boiling.
And we finally boiled some crawfish.
Fifteen minutes later (five minutes of boiling, 10 minutes of letting it simmer), we produced a beautifully red batch of Louisiana crawfish, complete with corn, potatoes, sausage, onions, garlic and a ton of seasoning.
The end result?
Our Louisiana crawfish lover was happy. And because of that, all the problems leading up to the first peeled tail were forgotten.
And we managed to introduce about a dozen others — most of them from states to the north of North Carolina — to crawfish. And unless they were lying to me, it seems we’ve found some fans.
So will I do this again? Absolutely. Only next time, I’ll pick a warmer day and find a better burner.
We don’t plan on leaving North Carolina any time soon … so it’s nice to know that every now and then, we can bring Louisiana to us.
Click here to see the company we ordered the crawfish from, Louisiana Crawfish Co. … they did a great job.
ALL PHOTOS taken by Emily Page