No, not those kind!
Delicious, steamed blue crabs. I’ve enjoyed crabs as far back as I can remember. (Seriously, get your mind outta there!) My grandparents use to have crab feasts at their house when I was younger so I learned early on how to eat and enjoy them. Since then I’ve indulged myself whenever possible.
I bring this up now because for the last two years I’ve forgone the traditional Christmas dinner to, instead, treat myself (and any family members interested) with a hot, steamy pot of blue crabs. This year I will only be able to write about it since I am away for the holidays.
In Florida it’s been difficult to get decent ones (both in restaurants and seafood markets) because most of them try to pass off smaller sized crabs as larger ones and for the larger price. In other words, they’ll sell you a dozen medium crabs at the large crab price and tell you they’re large crabs. I saw one place sell some small crabs to someone and I was completely disgusted because what I saw were babies not small crabs. If I remember correctly (from crabbing in the Chesapeake Bay back in Maryland) those would have been illegal to keep. Shameful. I don’t know if this is deliberate or if these folks just don’t know any better but I do know I’m not going to spend money on “large crabs” unless I’m getting large crabs.
Other things to take into consideration when purchasing crabs:
Male vs. Female crabs. While it makes no difference to me which one my tastey lumps of crab meat come out of, some folks (including some of my family members) prefer not to eat the female crabs. Could be those waxy orange chunks of crab eggs found when you open the shell. Whatever the reason, we try to get males whenever possible. (pictured left to right: female, male)
Light vs. Heavy. Periodically, a crab will shed it’s shell. It’s soft body becomes bigger before hardening into it’s new shell. Until it’s had time to eat enough to grow into that shell the meat content is light. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell whether a crab is heavy with meat by feel. One way to tell (sort of) is to look at the white bottom of the crab. If it’s bright white and maybe even a bit translucent, it’s likely a newer shell and therefore light. If it’s dark, yellowish/brownish, and dirty looking it’s probably been around a while and likely packed with meat.
One place we’ve found locally that seems to get it right is Henry’s Seafood Market on Gore Street (between OBT and Rio Grande) near downtown Orlando. Henry’s use to carry a variety of fish and seafood, as well as crabs, but now only sells live blue crabs. Since I never really spend any money (except on necessities and bills) I periodically run to Henry’s and get a dozen or two critters to cook as a treat for myself.
Different folks have different ways of cooking the critters but I continue to use the method taught to me by my gma. For a quick how-to lesson, keep reading.
Here’s what’s needed:
Live Blue Crabs
A large pot with a metal strainer or something in the bottom so the crabs won’t burn on the bottom
Seasoning (sometimes comes with the live crabs. My gma bought a large box of Maryland seasoning for us.)Tongs (long ones) or crab gloves
Water and vinegar
Stove or an outdoor gas cooker
The Eating Area
Newspaper or brown paper (to to cover the eating area and keep your table clean and soak up liquid)
Roll of paper towels
Crab crackers, wood dowels, or other hammering instrument
Crab knives or kitchen knives
A bib (if so inclined)
Beer or (my favorite) Dr. Pepper
Here’s how it goes:
Once you bring the critters home put the bag in the frig or in a cooler with ice. This slows them down so they don’t fight you when you put them into the pot. (I know this sounds really cruel but that’s how it’s done, unless you want to kill them just before. I can’t do that. I just beg forgiveness and tell them they’re going to a better place.)
When you’re ready to start cooking get out the pot, the crabs, the tongs, the seasoning, a cup of water, and a 1/4 cup of vinegar. Put the water and vinegar in the bottom of the pot. Use the tongs (or gloves) to get the crabs out of the bag and place them into the pot. As you place a layer of crabs, sprinkle some seasoning on them. The amount of seasoning depends on how spicy you like your food. When the pot is full or you’re out of crabs put the lid on and start cookin.
If you’re cooking on the stove set it on high and if your cooking on an outside gas cooker put the pot on and turn up the flame until it covers the bottom but doesn’t lap up the sides. About 7 minutes or so later you will start to see a consistant steam come out from the lid hole or around the lid. Once you see this, start timing. (During this time is the perfect chance to set up your eating area.) For a full pot of crabs we usually go for 25 minutes, then shut the gas off and let the pot sit for 5 or 10 before digging in.
If you have a big group you can dump the crabs in the middle of the table and let them have at it. When I have them by myself I’m usually sitting in front of the television watching a movie so I put the pot next to me and grab 2 or 3 at time. That way a few can cool off for eating and the rest stay warm. Also, if you’re eating outside on the picnic table you may want to use wood dowels to hammer away at the legs. Splattering everyone else is half the fun. If inside, though, you may want to use some crab crackers (a heavier version of nut crackers) to keep the mess to a minimum. (Gma pictured left)
Eating the crab is also done different ways by different people. I usually take off all the legs first and eat the meat in them. Then take off the top shell, clean off the lungs (the spongy this around the inside part where the meat is, also called Devil Fingers), clean out the stuff from between the two halves (actually, some of it I eat), then break the body into it’s two halves, stand each side on the table (with the edge that used to have the legs touching the table) and cut it in half length-wise with a sharp knife. Now dig in and pull out every bit of meat you can find. I know what you’re thinking… “That’s a heck of a lot of work. I’ll starve to death before I get through picking.” That’s one reason I start with the legs first. But, trust me, before you know it, you’ll be stuffed.
When the eating is over just put the dishes in some hot soapy water (or hose them off), then grab the ends of the paper you layered the table with and roll it or fold it up and put it in the trash. The mess is minimal.
Now go get you some and enjoy!