August 3, 2008
I am still savoring our week-long vacation at the beach, which sadly ended yesterday. The cool ocean breeze, the warm sand between your toes, the sound of crashing waves and crying sea gulls, the jangling bells of the ice cream truck are all hallmarks of our annual trip to the Jersey shore. A house by the beach also means a constant flow of friends and family, and we are always delighted to play host. While eating out is one of the expected benefits of a vacation, cooking and eating locally caught crabs on the patio is one family tradition we look forward to every summer.
Atlantic Blue crab is a deliciously frustrating type of food since such a small percentage if its weight is meat. The large amount of work to amass the smallest amount of succulent crab meat is enough to give anyone pause. Add the drippy mess of shells, cartilage, and crab juice and you have pretty much assured that the vast majority of the population sadly will never try eating whole crabs.
Blue crabs is something I only eat in the privacy of my own home with family, outdoors with a big table covered in newspaper, wearing old clothes with my rings and watch safely tucked away in my jewelry box (trust me, you don’t want your watch smelling like crabs). Loosen your pants and turn on the patio light – you’re going to be still digging for crab meat well after the sun sets. Add some cole slaw, corn, potatoes, cold beer and large box of wet wipes and you’ve got the makings for a great crab night.
There are two ways to cook crabs, boiling or steaming. I like to steam – I think it keeps the meat more tender and delicate than boiling. Some refrigerate the crabs before cooking to sedate them. I never do since I want to see lively crabs (to ensure they are still alive) before they go into the pot.
How to Cook Blue Crabs:
Live blue crabs (4-6 crabs/person)
Old Bay Seasoning
Fill a very large steamer pot with 2 inches of water. Add about 1/2 – 1 C. vinegar to the water. Place live crabs on top of the steamer insert, sprinkling each layer with Old Bay seasoning. Cover, bring to a boil and cook until the shell is bright red (about 10 minutes).
To eat: Take off the large outer shell by pulling the arrow-shaped “pulltab” on the belly and removing the top shell. Tear off the fern-like gills and crack the inner body in half. The sweetest meat is in the body – some eat the cartilage, I do not. Use a nut-cracker or crab hammer to open the claws – chopsticks are very handy for getting the meat out.