Monday, October 25, 2010
Maryland Blue Crab in Chesapeake Bay
This is a pile of eighteen steamed Maryland blue crabs coated with Old Bay seasoning. Armed with a small knife, mallet, and my bare hands, I dove into the stack. For the uninitiated, and non-squeamish, this is a quick how-to guide to eating these crustaceans.
I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, tearing apart indigenous dungeness crabs. Those crabs are larger than the blue crabs and have much more meat in the legs. As a consequence of this training, I am fairly proficient at eating crab legs. But as you can tell from the picture, the legs on blue crabs have hardly anything worth salvaging beside what's in the claws.
Step One: Flip the Crab Over and Remove Apron
Almost all the blue crabs served in Maryland are male. There are strict catch limits on the female crabs, especially during spawning season from May until early Fall. To identify male and female crabs, the underside "apron" is shaped differently by sex. The rule of thumb is that aprons shaped like the Washington Monument, as in the picture above, indicate male crabs. The female crabs have rounded aprons shaped like the Capitol Building.
Insert the knife under the apron tab and pry it off. It should come off rather easily. This will then allow you to pry off the top shell, or carapace, from the back of the crab.
Step Two: Cleaning the Crab
Usually even at a Chinese restaurant, which is not afraid to show you the ugly side of your food, the gills and some of the digestive track have been removed prior to serving. When I was a kid, I had seen my grandmother pry off the shell of a living crab before in Taiwan, so this scene wasn't as unnerving as the one I'd seen before. There is some cultural conflict as to whether you can eat the yellow digestive tract of the crab. Many Asians would gladly eat this, especially over rice. In Maryland, it is commonly removed. It has a bitter taste, though it is intensely "crab-like." What people can agree on however, is removing the white finger-like gills on either side.
Step Three: Crack Open the Membrane and Pick out the Meat
Split the crab in two to access the meat underneath the semi-transparent membrane. Also, rip off the legs for easier access. The largest leg with the claw can be cracked open with the mallet to access some kernels of crab meat.
At this point the directions are rather free-form. My advice is to simply pick out anything that's white and soft and eat it.
The carnage from six crabs
Maryland crab season is from March until November. I went to the Crab Claw Restaurant in St. Michael's on the Eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay. It is about four hours away from New York City. Wear clothes you don't mind getting dirty. The price of the crabs vary daily. When I went at the end of October, the crabs were $32/dozen. If you do go to the Crab Claw, the crab cakes are a rip-off at $18 each, even with a side. There are great crab cake sandwiches elsewhere for around $10. Lastly, thanks to my girlfriend for demonstrating crab dismemberment procedures.
The Crab Claw
Route 33 West / Navy Point
St. Michaels, MD 21663