Is it me or has anyone else noticed you never find an article in any of these fine dining magazines regarding what wine goes best with mudfish? It is a glaring oversight and I plan to write a few editors.
Without guidance from the culinary aficionados who write for these magazines it leaves the rest of us guessing? Do we serve a red or white wine with mudfish? Does the flavor of mudfish require a wine with fruity components or perhaps something with more earthy flavor points?
I am no wine expert, but in absence of direction from the experts, I am willing to make a few suggestions based on my personal experience.
If it is ‘fruity’ we need then the discerning pallet will opt for Mad Dog 20/20 Grape. Of course, you may feel Grape is too pedestrian and something more along the lines of Mad Dog’s Electric Melon or even their Dragon Fruit offering is the optimal beverage. Others may advocate for another brand of wine altogether. Of course, I am referring to the Thunderbird crowd. They prefer this lighter colored, whitish wine over Mad Dog because it is cheaper and you can use it to power an outboard motor should you run out of gas while fishing for mudfish. Of course, the more cultured pallet will insist on no less than a vintage bottle of Ripple, say, something circa 1972 to 1977 (known by wine eilitist as the ‘Sanford and Son’ era).
You really can’t go wrong with any of these vintages. All of them do a great job of numbing your taste buds, which helps a lot when you are eating mudfish.
It occurs to me that there are a few unsophisticated troglodytes out there who don’t fish the lakes and rivers of the Eastern United States that don’t even know what a mudfish is. Their scientific name is bowfin, but down South Carolina ways, we call them mudfish. How they got the name I have no idea, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it came from how they taste. A mudfish has a flavor that lives up to its name.
The mudfish is a primitive looking creature. It first appeared in the Jurassic era and the design hasn’t changed since then. They are a long, brown, eel-shaped critter with a huge mouthful of vicious-looking teeth. It is fair to describe them as a cross between a gar fish and a catfish and possibly a chupacabra. I don’t know how big they grow, but I’ve seen plenty in the fifteen-to-twenty pound range.
Their disposition is every bit as pleasant as their appearance. Mudfish are ornery. They are also as oily an animal as I have ever known. Saudi Arabia does not lead the world in oil production. Mudfish lead the world in oil production. Hold a one pound mudfish fillet in your hand, give it a squeeze and you can fill up a coffee cup with the oil that runs out of it, although why you would want to is beyond me.
A mudfish is something you wind up eating when all other options run out. Even then, you have to get awfully desperate. That is what happened to me and my friends Carl and David one night on the Congaree River in South Carolina – we ran out of options.
Let me say straight off that we didn’t start out eating mudfish. We are the tough-it-out types, that don’t cave the minute things turn unpleasant. We ate our bait first. When we didn’t get enough bait to fill us up, then and only then did we start in on the mudfish.
Before you gag over the bait thing (assuming you haven’t already), let me just state for the record – the bait was shrimp.
My Dad was an expert on catching catfish on the Congaree. I told him our plans to spend a few days on the river only eating what we catch.
“Use Louisiana Pink shrimp,” he told me. “You’ll catch plenty to eat. But it has to be pinks”
The day of our fishing trip, the store we bought our shrimp from was out of pinks. We had to go with “white” shrimp instead. I figured it wouldn’t matter that much. Shrimp is shrimp, right?
We fished all morning. What we caught was nothing. We fished through the afternoon. Nothing. Evening came along. Not a thing. We set up camp on a sandbar and fished. Nada.
Around midnight, after my personal health and wellbeing had been threatened several times by my former friends for being the ‘genius’ that suggested we only ate what we caught, I cooked our bait in a little green Coleman stove. We split about a half pound of shrimp between the three of us.
Around 2:30 in the morning, David’s fishing pole bent double. He fought the fish for a while then dragged it gasping up onto the bank of the sandbar. It had to be three feet long. We were elated until we shined a light down on it and saw it was a mudfish.
“I don’t care how hungry I am,” David said. “I Ain’t eating no mudfish.”
“Me, neither,” said Carl.
“That makes three of us,” I said.
By 4:30, I had the mudfish cleaned and frying in the pan. It took some doing. The hardest part of filleting a mudfish is not scaling it or anything like that. The hardest part is actually holding on to it. It kept slipping out of my hand and falling onto the sand of the sandbar. I didn’t need to grease the pan, which was lucky, because we didn’t bring any grease. Our mudfish was cooked in its own oil.
We didn’t have wine. We had beer, and, believe me, it takes a lot of beer to get motivated enough to eat a mudfish.
The only good thing I can say about fried mudfish is you don’t have to chew it much. The oil helps it go down pretty quickly. The oil also helps bring it back up, too, in the form of burping up fish liquids. The oil also does a number on your innards and the mudfish revisits you on the back end of your gastric tract. Our mudfish emissions got so bad, we had to abandon our three man tent and brave the hordes of mosquitoes that descended on us on the sandbar.
By sun up, we had had enough. We packed our gear into the boat and headed out of there. We wound up at my parent’s house.
“You’ve got to use Louisiana pink shrimp,” my Dad told us. “Whites don’t catch that much.”
“They caught a mudfish,” I told him.
“What’d you do with it?”
No one answered right off, then Carl said, “We ate it.”
My Dad howled.
“I’ve never been hungry enough to eat a mudfish,” he said.
My mom took mercy on us. She ran him out of the kitchen then made us breakfast of mudfish and grits. No, seriously, it was scrambled eggs, bacon and toast.
I forget what wine she served.