Gridiron Grub: A Case of the Crabs
Growing up in Northeast Pennsylvania, fresh seafood wasn’t really an option for me. So for the majority of my life, I missed out on such gems as mussels, pollack, porgy and much more. Since my introduction to saltwater proteins, my absolute favorite seafood dish is the regional specialty, Maryland blue crabs. How can you go wrong with a crustacean whose scientific name actually means “beautiful savory swimmer?” Wifey grew up just a short trip from the Chesapeake and crab feasts were a regular part of life. Her parents had one for their rehearsal dinner 30 years ago, their family always got together in the summer to swim and “pick crabs” and one of the first get-togethers to let me know I was part of the family was a crab feast.
For those of you who aren’t familiar the traditional Chesapeake crab prep is a simple mixture of spicy Old Bay seasoning, rock salt and vinegar steamed together. Once the crabs are cooked, we typically cover a table with layers of newspaper and just spill everything out and begin picking. Picking crabs takes time and effort! I have gotten better but the process of breaking the crabs down and getting every luscious bit of meat out is not for everyone. That is why we always have plenty of beer and plenty of time to talk to each other. That combination of great food, drinks and 3-4 hours of quality time makes Maryland blue crabs the perfect Gridiron Grub. They may not be available everywhere but if you get a chance definitely try this while enjoying the games.
1 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup beer
3 tablespoons kosher salt (or more! You can salt each layer of crab as you lay them in the pot)
1 clove minced garlic
1 bay leaf
3/4 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning or crab boil
Combine liquid ingredients with seasonings. In a large stockpot with a lid, place half of the crabs on the bottom; pour on half of the vinegar mixture. Add remaining crabs and liquid.
Cover and steam until crabs become bright red, about 30 minutes. Be warned that as they warm up, they may become a little feisty!
*As you can see it is fairly simple prep and there are just 2 things you need to be aware of. First, do not store the crabs in water but if anything, prior to cooking, store them in a cooler with a little bit of ice. Second, the reason why you store them this way is that the crabs must be alive when you cook them or else they will have a strong ammonia smell when cooked and will not be too edible. If you avoid this, it is pretty hard to mess up the dish and easy to enjoy.
(Photo courtesy of 80 proof)
As much as I would like to take credit for that photo, Gansie actually took it. Although I was sitting right next to her. haha
Ah well my apologies. We just made the last batch of crabs at the in-laws a few weeks ago and none of my photos of the aftermath came out looking like anything but a scene from Glory. Bravo to gansie on the artsy photo though I’m sure your moral support was essential.
so how do you know if crabs are good when buying them? I’ve had awesome crabs that had tons of meat in them, but others that are practically empty and were just not worth the picking time. Is there some kind of trick, like shaking them or something?
Few things to consider:
1. If you’re eating them whole, go with the males as they’re bigger and meatier.
2. They typically come in 3 sizes aptly named 1’s, 2’s and 3’s. 1’s are the biggest. No matter the size, the yield is fairly low.
3. Choose crabs that are moving and have a fresh salty smell. Also make sure they’re not more than a few days old.
Those are the main rules I know of but I am still a newbie so hopefully others will chime in. I’ll also ask my father-in-law next time I talk to him because he has been my Yoda. The few times we have had an issue of either a crab being bad or not having much meat, the fishmonger makes a note of it and makes sure to throw in some extras the next time.
I want some now please!!
This is my favorite post ever. If I ever get my childhood videos into a digital format, I’ll post my crab picking tutorial from 1991
BS- if the crabs try to fight you/steal your fingers/nose/hair, that also means that they’re fairly fresh. For examples of a really fucking fiesty crab, look on my FB