Friday, June 8, 2012

Asian Eyes' USA - Crayfish & Oyster

I went to school in USA back in the early nineties. So far I have been writing about sea fishing, but there were other activities that I participated. Other produces that are abundant in Gulf Shores are crayfish and oyster. I was fortunate to be able to participate in both crayfish hunt and oyster harvest. Crayfish is seasonal but oyster is year round (but now its harvest is controlled by authority).
Crayfish lives in freshwater water system and swampy areas. It looks like a small lobster, a scavenger and found at the bottom of stream, creek or pond. Actually I stumbled into crayfish hunting by accident in June. Yon and I were bored of the usual sea fishing by the pier and wanted some freshwater fishing action instead. We chose the lightest rod and line and get some bait - small crickets, from a local bait shop before heading to a creek that ran parallel to our local airport. We were targeting a fish called 'crappie', a local freshwater fish the size of our palm. It is a nice eating fish where I had eaten them once. I fried them till the bones were brittle and we munched it like a cracker - swallowing in all, the flesh, bones, heads and tails. We arrived at the creek around late morning but an overcast make it looked like early morning. There were a couple of cars parked on the entrance but we pay no heed to them. We reached the creek and look for submerged logs or vegetation, a sign of crappie below them. I hooked a cricket while wading in the knee deep water, and left it flowed with the slow current. A crappie swam out from its hideout and swallowed the bait. We bagged a couple of crappy the size of our palm in an hour time, and we continued waded upstream. Around a bend we chanced upon a ox bow lake, a remnant of the creek which current had cut off the bank. We took a breather on the bank between the creek and the bow lake, eating lunch.  
Crayfish looks like a small 
lobster,but careful, it 
pinches finger
I had my left hand submerged in the water as I ate my sandwich. "Ouch" I shouted when I felt a sharp pain on my little finger. As I pulled up my my hand, something dropped back to the water and scurried away. "Crayfish" Yon exclaimed, peering at the water where the crayfish disappeared. "It must has mistaken your hand as food ", he continued. As we strained our eyes on the ox bow lake, lo and behold, we can make out the lobster like crayfish, crawling underwater, all over the lake. It must be hundreds of them. "Are they edible, Yon?", I inquired. When the answer was affirmative, all thought about crappie quickly disappeared. I quickly finished my lunch and took out my scoop net. I managed to net about 5-6 before Yon joined me. We got about 10 dozens before the water became too murky to see them. We moved on to another section where it was still clear and net another 5 dozens or so, before "Booooom", a thunder roared. We had been too engrossed in catching crayfish that we did not realized that the water on the creek was fast rising as it was raining was upstream. The excitement and the fact the ox bow lake was cut off from the creek blinded us. The water in the ox bow lake does not rose in tandem as in the creek. Now situation had changed to a matter of life and death, not simply a fishing stroll by a creek, in a split second. "We have to get out from here, quick" Yon shouted as he jumped into the creek. The water had came up to his waist, and I followed suit, one arm holding my rod, the other on the bag of crayfish. I have forgotten about the caught crappies. We waded downstream with quick steps and half an hour later, we barely make out in the nick of time as the water had reached our chest as we exited the creek near our car park. Any longer, we may be drown, and would be in local headline daily news the next day. 
Back home we steamed the crayfish with potatoes and carrot in salted water. It was red when cooked. The crayfish's heads were big but little meat to it. The meat was OK, and better when dipped in chilly sauce. We finished off the crayfish while reminiscing on the close call today. Phew, no more crayfish trip!  
Crayfish is nice in gumbo, a dish in rice
The trip to the oyster harvest was arranged through a fellow classmate of mine, whose parents ran one of the biggest oyster bar chain in town. We were up and about on a fine morning in September, and set off in a dinghy about 12 feet length, fitted with an Mercury outboard motor. The state conservation authority had put up artificial reefs in strategic area to breed oysters. My classmate named Michael and I put on orange life jackets, like the one they showed in plane, and the boat sped off with the wind against our face for about an hour. Bill, the oyster man, was in an orange overall outfit does not wear one though. "Cumbersome" he said to the wind when we asked him. We navigated through canals, marshes, under bridges and open water before reaching the breeding area. The reef was marked with white buoys with number on it, marking the start and end of the territory of the winning commercial oyster man, who bid and won the commercial oyster catcher's permit to harvest oyster in the said location. 
Oyster - aphrodisiac from the sea
Once arrived at the location, Bill cut the engine. After explaining the area, the do and don't about oyster harvest, Bill grabbed an oyster that was attached to a reef below the watermark. He placed the oyster his left gloved hand and expertly used his pocket knife on his right hand to pry open the oyster, an action called "shackle". Once the oyster was opened, he rinsed it with seawater and handed it to me. I wolfed down the oyster after biting into its body. Even though we do not have lemon, the oyster was simply superb. The juice burst out, it was crunchy, sweet, slightly salty and had a tinge of the ocean after taste. I gave a thumb up to Bill. Looking for more, I plunged my hand (gloved, off course) into an oyster clump, and got an immediate present from the oysters. I had cut my elbow against the sharp oyster shell! Even though I managed to pry an oyster from the reef, I had had tough time in opening the shell to get to the meat. Again the master, Bill, showed his mastery skill, opening 3 in a split seconds and we had a oyster toast before gulping it down. 
Oyster tong is actually 2 rakes 
clasped together 
Bill used a oyster tong to rake in oysters from the seabed. The oyster came aboard together with mud and their were mighty dirty. We had to clean it by hosing them down sea water before we bagged them into a sack. I picked oysters that were attached to the reef, carefully  nudge them loose with our gloved handIt was tough job - we cut our hands even with the gloves on, and boy, the sacks were heavy. Each full sack weighed around 100 pounds. When the sack was full, Bill tied it the sack's opening and attached a tag to it. "It is a regulation, its state where and when they were harvested" he explained. We filled up 3 sacks for Bill, and had some leftover, about 20 pounds, which I brought them home. 

Chilled oyster + Lemon = Heaven, yummy!!
At home I had some oysters with lemon, and they tasted marvelously delicious. Tony does not take raw oysters and so were my other friends. Sensing their reluctance, I shackled some, dipped them in batter and deep fried them. Tony took one bite but his face told me he was merely accommodating even though he said nice. I had most of the oysters to myself. The balance oyster I had them shackled and fried them with egg and starch "or chien" (meaning fried oyster in Chinese) style. The oysters were big, unlike the usual hawker fare which oysters are puny. I walloped the whole plate as no one else was gung-ho to try any, whether raw, deep fried or fried. I have my full fill of oysters. I never bothered to ship any oyster to Zak as it will not last despite dry ice. 
Big big pearls, come to papa!
That night I dreamed of shackling oysters, and every oysters I opened, they contained big pearl, as big as groundnut, and some even had multiple pearls in it. I felt like a millionaire until I woke up!  

Location: The Original Oyster House3733A Battleship Pkwy, Spanish Fort, Alabama 36527, USA.
Tel: +1 251-626-2188

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