Tuesday, July 25, 2017  

Blue Crabs
in this area, eating crabs is an event

In this area eating crabs isn’t something you do just because you are hungry, it is an event. Some would even say it is a way of life. You will never see person eating a bushel of crabs alone. A picnic table covered in newspaper and a bushel of crabs will bring together more friends than you ever realized you had. Add to all of this bowls of vinegar, melted butter, and seasoning, a case of beer, and some music and you will know for certain that summer has arrived.

The life cycle of the crab highly dictates how it is best served at dinner. In the summer months, the female crab will travel to the southern parts of the Chesapeake Bay to deposit her eggs. The baby crab, or Zoea, looks nothing like the mature crab. Once it begins to resemble a mature crab it is considered a Megalops. The baby crabs will hatch shortly after they are deposited and migrate up the Bay and its tributaries until cold weather begins to set in. Once it begins to get warm again they continue their migration until they reach full maturity; at the age of twelve to fourteen months. In order for a crab to reach full maturity it must first shed its outer shell. When it sheds, it is considered a soft crab, which fried is a delicacy in our area. There is a very small window of time before the new shell begins to harden. The average crab lives no longer than three years and will go through several molting processes during this time.

Picking steamed crabs could be one of the best ways to spend an afternoon in the summer. Some would say that the secret to good steamed crabs is a can of flat beer and plenty of J.O. Spice; others may disagree wholeheartedly. The fact of the matter is that just about every person out there seasons crabs differently. Some people like to add crushed red pepper and sea salt. Others, it seems, abandon the seasoning process entirely. And still others refuse to reveal their secrets.

Just as steamed crabs differ depending on the cook, so do crab cakes. It doesn’t matter how many different restaurants you go to, it is highly unlikely that the crab cake will be made the same way. Generally speaking, if you go to a restaurant and order the tuna or even a pasta dish, you will have a good idea of what it will taste like before the first bite. It seems as though that is rarely the case with a crab cake. In some, you will find more breading, others more mustard, and still others may have surprises like lobster or peppers.

There is something about crabmeat that is enhanced by so many rich flavors. A good crab dip is the perfect example of this. Somehow the creamy base blends perfectly with the crabmeat, without masking it.

For those of you who have enjoyed your share of crab, and those of you who are new to the love, here are just a few tasty ways to prepare our region’s most beloved dinner. With all of these recipes remember to sift through the crabmeat to make sure that all of the shell has been removed.

Warm Crab Dip

2 8-oz. packages of cream cheese
1 8-oz. container of sour cream
1/4 cup of mayonnaise
1 pound of crabmeat
1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon of garlic Salt
1 teaspoon of dry mustard
1 cup of shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Combine ingredients in a baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until the top starts to brown. Serve warm with crackers, pita bread, or toast points.

The Classic Crab Cake

1 pound of jumbo lump (or backfin) crabmeat
1 large egg, beaten
1 tablespoon of dried parsley flakes
1 teaspoon of Old Bay Seasoning
1 teaspoon of yellow mustard
1 teaspoon of dry mustard
1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
6 Ritz Crackers, crushed
Shape into 4 cakes. Fry in a skillet with oil until browned on both sides. The secret to a good crab cake is not to flip it until it is ready. Let the bottom have time to brown and the egg have time to set before the first flip, once it falls apart, your won’t get it back together.

Pesto Mushroom Caps Stuffed with Crabmeat

20 medium mushroom caps
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1/2 cup of pesto
Italian breadcrumbs
1 pound of lump crabmeat
Fresh grated parmesan cheese
Lightly cover the bottom of a baking dish with olive oil. Remove the stems from the mushrooms and place them rounded side down in the backing dish so that they each make a small bowl. Put a small amount of pesto in each mushroom cap and cover with Italian breadcrumbs. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Spoon crabmeat into each mushroom cap and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, continue baking at 350 degrees for an additional 15 minutes. Serve warm.

Crab Salad

1 pound lump crabmeat
2 teaspoons of lemon juice
2 tablespoons of finely chopped celery
Old Bay to taste (about four hard shakes)
Enough mayonnaise to moisten
Mix above ingredients and serve cold. Enjoy on a bed of lettuce, crackers, or with carrots and celery sticks.

Cool Crab Spread

3 8-oz packages of cream cheese
1/2 cup of cocktail sauce
1 pound of jumbo lump crabmeat
On a pretty platter spread out cream cheese evenly, top with cocktail sauce, and then crab meat. Serve cool with crackers or toast points.
These are just a few of the favorite ways that locals have to prepare crabmeat. When all else fails, it can also be enjoyed straight out of the container or straight out of the shell.

The Crab Glossary

Apron—A portion of the outer shell, found on the underside of the crab, that should be peeled back or removed to properly pick a crab.
Bushel of Crabs—Enough crabs to have a small party.
Butter—Used as a dressing to dip freshly picked crabmeat in.
Cocktail Sauce—The perfect combination of horseradish and ketchup.
Dead Man’s Fingers—The gills, or lungs, of the crab.
Half-Bushel of Crabs—Enough crabs for your immediate family.
J.O. Spice—Popular, spicy seafood seasoning found where seafood is sold.
Jimmy—A fully mature, large male crab. The meatiest crab and also most expensive.
Lemon—The juice from a fresh lemon is the perfect hand-wash to remove odors after picking crabs.
Mustard—The yellow fatty goo inside of the crab. Loved by some, hated by others. Those who love it typically use it to dip crab meat in.
Old Bay Seasoning—A seafood seasoning found in most grocery stores with other spices.
Pickin’ Crabs—The art of removing crabmeat from a steamed crab by hand. In this region it is often mastered at a young age, as elders are often not likely to share.
Sally or She Crab—An immature, female crab.
Soft-Shelled Crab—A crab that has just molted and the shell has yet to harden. Best enjoyed fried, on a bun, with cocktail sauce.
Sook—A fully mature, female crab.
A little less meat than a Jimmie, but
a little less expensive.
Tablecloth for Crab Picking—Multiple layers of newspaper spread across every surface of an outdoor table. When the top layer is a mess, throw away and use underneath layers.
Vinegar—Some use to make pickles, other use to dip crabmeat in.
Zoea—A baby crab that has just hatched, not recommended for picking.