September 2, 2010

Crab People!

I am a Maryland girl, born and raised, and every summer there is one thing that I MUST do.... eat crabs!

It's true, it's a law somewhere.

I was never a big seafood eater when I was younger... with two exceptions: shrimp and crab - both with a GENEROUS serving of this stuff:

Old Bay Seasoning in Tin - 6 oz
Mmmmm makes my mouth water thinking about it!

For those of you that have never tried it, Old Bay is the stuff that makes Maryland crabs what they are... it has a distinct taste and is far better than (in my opinion) other seafood seasoning out there. According to the website it includes spices such as celery salt,  mustard, red pepper, bay leaves, cloce, allspice, ginger, mace, cardamom, cinnamon, and most importantly, paprika.

Old Bay can be found on nearly everything around here: seafood (and crab dip), popcorn, eggs, corn, french fries, potato chips, and a few restaurants use it as either ingredients in or on the rim of a Bloody Mary.

I bring up crabs because I had the opportunity this past Sunday to get some friends together for a crab feast, and a college friend is coming in to town this weekend so I am pretty sure there is more crab eating in store for me. 

I'm fortunate that a friend of mine's husband works for a seafood restaurant in Baltimore, so we were able to get the "too small to sell" crabs easily and without much hassle for the crab feast. I invited about 20 people, and about ten of us tucked in to the crabs, going through nearly 2 bushels (that's 8-10 DOZEN crabs).

Ever had a crab?

The taste is, in a word, delicious. Crabs are meaty and sweet and delicate and when steamed with a more than generous topping of Old Bay, they are perfection.

The only trick, however, is that you have to work for your food. If this is not something you are fond of, either find someone to do it for you or move on.

It is a process to open up a crab, but as you get better and better at it, you can go through a crab in under 10 minutes. Everyone has their own technique, and I highly recommend Washingtonian's "Get Cracking" guide because it has some great pictures that will make the process easier.
from (even though I can tell these definitely need more seasoning!)

Here are my top 10 crab eating tips:
  1.  If you have any cuts on your hands, put a bandage on that seals all the way around. Trust me, you DO NOT want to get any old bay in to your cuts. It will burn and will impact your crab-eating time. 
  2. Don't wear a white shirt. It's a bad idea and it will ruin your shirt if you get any Old Bay on it. Stick with easily washable dark colors. 
  3. Be prepared to sit for a while. Have lots of water (or beer) handy to drink, and make sure you have a couple of rolls of paper towels handy (see tip #6). 
  4. Eat outside. Have a trashcan with a trash bag ready or two. It will stink up your house, your car, and anywhere else the crabs hang out. 
  5. Newspaper or brown craft paper. People refer to it as the "Maryland tablecloth" for a reason. It will protect (mostly) your table tops, and make clean up a snap - just roll up the paper with shells inside! 
  6. Paper Towel Tip - Get crabs out of your way faster and make room for the eatin'. pre-tear several paper towels in front of you. Open the crabs on these towels, and once you've gone through one or two, fold up the crab in the towel and just toss. Bam! Instant clean. 
  7. Mallets and knives - have both at the ready. Mallets are for claws, and the knives are for two reasons - to pry off the top shell, and to help with claw opening. Set your knife across your claw and whack the blade with the mallet. It will produce a cleaner, easier way to get to that sweet sweet crab meat. 
  8. Take off all of your rings before you start. Old Bay really does get everywhere! I have been known to wash my hands periodically while eating crabs - otherwise it gets too messy. Avoid touching your eyes for a while after eating. The seasoning could linger and it burns....
  9. Don't confuse the gills with meat! It can make you sick. Gills are gray, the meat is white. Also, some people will eat the "mustard" inside the crab. If you really want to try it, go ahead, but it's part of the crab's digestive system. 
  10. Use lemon juice when washing your hands to get rid of the stink. 
So now that you have these tips and the summer is almost over, get out there and EAT SOME CRABS!!! You'll thank me later.

I will admit, however, that I haven't always been a crab lover.

Once, when I was in elementary school, we went on a family vacation to the Outer Banks, NC. We even went to the pier and caught our own crabs for dinner. My parents steamed or boiled the crabs, and when we sat down to eat them, and I opened one up... it was a female that was pregnant. I didn't eat crabs for about 3 years after that... and even to this day, I won't eat females. It's weird enough to me that they have eyes that stare in to your soul.....

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