All About Blue Crabs
Catching Blue Crabs
Crabbing methods range from simple and inexpensive
to an elaborate investment of time and money. A dip net is the primary
catching device that also serves to transport the crab to your container.
But what happens if the crab gets loose?
are quick and can bite or pinch with their claws. Although they seldom
do more than draw a little blood, the bite can momentarily be painful.
It is a good idea to learn how to handle a live hard-shelled crab with
your bare hands.
A crab must be held from the back, away from
the snapping claws. But in order to get hold of it, you must first find
a way to keep it still. Press lightly on the top shell with a shoe, stick,
or other device. Too much pressure will crack the shell.
The thumb(s) should then be placed on top of
the swimming paddle where it meets the body (shell) and the forefinger(s)
are placed underneath where the same swimming paddle meets the underbody.
All of the other fingers are closed into the palm of the hand. Keep a firm
grip on the crab. When it is held tightly, you can then pick it up without
It is not possible for the crab to reach back
and bite the fingers because of it's body conformation. If you are a little
nervous, or the crab seems rather large and strong, use both hands...one
on each swimming paddle to pick it up!
Now, the tried and true method of cheaply catching
blue crab is simple. Grab a flight to the East Coast, preferably Baltimore.
Situate yourself in a public area on a break-wall or a highway overpass
located on one of many inlets on the Chesepeake Bay. Bring some scap beef
chunks, string, a dip net, and an old apple basket with a lid. Cut the
string to 12 to 20 foot lengths, depending on the depth of the water. Tie
a beef chunk to one end of the string and fasten the other end to a secure
point at your location. Toss the meat into the water and sit back.
When the line begins to tighten, you got yourself a blue crab grabbing
onto the meat. Slowly begin to draw the line in and scoop up the crab with
a dip net and place it in the basket. Bingo! Your crabbin'.
||In this photograph (circa 1972)
my brother Tim displays the fine art of crabbing! The water depth averaged
about six feet off my Grandma's wharf.
It's hard to tell from this lousy picture, but the image you
see in the water is actually a blue crab hanging on to
his dinner with both claws.
Steaming Blue Crabs
Steaming hard-shell blue crabs, especially if
you caught them yourself, is the sweet finale to the day's adventure! Use
a crab-steamer if you have one, if not, any big pot will do as long as
you have something to put in the bottom that raises the crabs out of the
water while steaming.
Wash your crabs off with running water before
you steam them. Not much rinsing is required, and it gives you a chance
to remove any dead crabs. Dead crabs should NOT be eaten. Deterioration
takes place and bacteria multiplies rapidly in dead shellfish, so why take
a chance! Also, remember not to mix plates, gloves, or anything else that
has touched the live crabs with the cooked crabs. Salmonella and other
bacterial agents transport easily.
Before you start the cooking process it is a
good idea to get the table covered with paper, set out knives and mallets,
paper towels, and anything else for your feast. When the crabs are ready...everyone
wants to eat!
For each dozen of blue claw hard-shell crabs,
use one cup of water and one cup of vinegar, which should be put in the
||Use tongs, or a gloved hand
to place the crabs on an elevated platform in the container after the liquid
is boiling. Then generously sprinkle seasoning over each layer of crabs.
Steam about twenty to thirty minutes and eat them while they are hot!
The dried seasoning may be purchased at the grocery store
or fish market or you can make your own. About five ounces of dried mixture
is sprinkled in layers, on each dozen crabs in the pot.
The following ingredients makes two pounds of
seasoning for about six dozen crabs. Mix well and store in an airtight
jar until ready for use.
1 lb. coarse salt (small rock salt)
5 oz. crushed red pepper
3 oz. dried mustard
1 1/2 oz. ginger
1 oz. black pepper
1 oz. celery flakes
1 oz. onion flakes
1/2 oz. celery seeds
1/2 oz. crushed bay leaves
1/2 oz. laurel leaves
1/2 oz. cinnamon
1/2 oz. paprika
1/2 oz. thyme
1/2 oz. mace
Picking Blue Crabs
Techniques for picking and cleaning the meat
from a steamed hard-shelled crab are as different as the people who catch
them. Some people go at it with a mallet, crushing all the delicate membrane
into the succulent meat and leaving too much waste behind. Others take
their time, watch how their neighbors extract large juicy chunks of the
crab, and find their own unique way of getting the most meat for their
labor. The masters of picking steamed crabs rarely talk...they eat!
Here are the basics, with variations you may
wish to try, whether you are an old hand or just beginning. If you are
picking crabs for a recipe or for storage, put more meat in the bowl than
in your mouth!
First, cover the table with heavy brown paper,
or newspapers. You may also want a bowl, a paring knife, a cutting board
for hammering and cracking the claws, a small wooden mallet, paper towels,
refreshments, and a lined trash can by the table.
||Place the crab on its back,
belly up. Notice the apron in the middle of the crab body. This photo is
of a male crab, a female crab apron looks very different. Take the point
of a knife, or use your fingers to lift up the apron. Pull it back away
from the body, break it off and discard.
||Turn the crab over, belly down
and facing away from you. To take the top shell off, put your thumb or
a knife under the back edge of the shell and lift it up, off, and discard.
Next, with your fingers or a knife, scrape off the six
gills (lungs, sometimes called the dead man) on either side of the open
body. These gills are not edible, so discard.
||The yellow, green, red, orange,
or brownish-colored material found just behind the mouth area is the fat,
heart, and/or the eggs (roe) of the crab and is good to eat. Press down
and break off the mouth area and discard.
||At this point, the experts
diverge in opinion about whether to pull the claws and all of the legs
off to eat later. I like to have them on for something to hold on to when
I pick up the crab to break it in half. There are other reasons to leave
the appendages on the body, as you will see. You can also use a knife to
cut the crab, as shown in the photo.
||The meat under the membrane
cover on each half of the crab can be exposed by removing this cover with
a knife. Or you may slice, or break lengthwise through the center of each
half without removing the membrane.
Each of these methods will expose large succulent
chunks of meat, which may be removed with your fingers or a knife.
Everyone has heard of backfin crab meat! This
is why I like to leave the legs on, and prefer not to go beyond breaking
the crab in half.
||Hold the swimming paddle just
beyond the joint on the body and break it free, the huge backfin meat pops
out, with almost no membrane. You can pull each leg and the claw off in
this fashion to be rewarded with chucks of meat.
||Expose the meat under the membrane
covering by breaking or cutting it. The tender chunks can be removed with
your fingers, a fork, or a nut pick. Make sure that your take out all of
the membranes before placing the meat in your bowl (for storage, or recipes)
or before eating.
I like to save the claws to eat last because
their flavor is so unique! It also gives me a chance to perfect my skill
in getting the meat out whole.
||Put the claw on the table (on
a cutting board, if necessary) with the inside of the pincers facing up.
Place a metal blade just behind the joint where the pincers join, and hold
the blade steady. Rap the top edge of the blade with a mallet, just enough
to score the shell of the claw.
||Hold both sides of the claw
in each hand. The hand holding the pincer should have the thumb just below
the score mark, with the forefinger knuckle curved behind the back side,
also below the score mark. Snap the pincers off.
The meat should come out whole. Put it in your
mouth, bite down to the membrane, pull between your teeth to drag the meat
off into your mouth. If it doesn't work the first time, dig the meat out
with a knife and try again! The same technique is used for the upper arm
of the claw.
When all the crabs have been cleaned and picked,
whatever you didn't eat may be used to prepare the dish of choice or else
frozen. About eighteen to twenty crabs when cleaned will produce a pound
of crab meat (two cups). If there are some crabs left over; claws, legs,
and even half bodies can be thrown in a pot to start crab soup!
A chef once told me that if the swimming paddle
joints are crushed a little and thrown in the soup pot, the flavor is superb!
Norm Dreisch, of Harris Cove Bed n' Boat, likes to start a crab soup broth
by boiling out the "innards" from the carapace shell, plus all that roe
and fat from the center of the crab. Makes a wonderful base (especially
if there is seasoning on the shells).
The best thing about having crabs for dinner
is the cleanup! Be sure to look over the table and take everything out
that doesn't get thrown away. Then just roll up the paper and put it in
the trash bag. If at all possible, take the bag outside to a varmint proof
can, as it will smell up the house by the next morning!
Recipes for Blue Crab Meat
Live soft-shelled crabs are "put down" before cleaning.
It may seem unpleasant, but the quickest way to do this is by sticking
the point of a knife or an ice pick between the eyes. If you bought your
soft-shell frozen, let it thaw a bit before cleaning.
Lay the soft-shelled crab on its back (belly
up) and remove the apron. Turn the crab over, lift up the pointed ends
(spikes) and remove the six gills on each side. Then replace each point
to its original position. With scissors, cut off the mouth, eyes and feelers.
Wash the crab thoroughly, even under the spikes.
Dip the crab in egg and cracker meal and fry, deep-fry
or broil for ten minutes (five minutes on each side) and season to taste.
West Indies Salad
This recipe is from Noni Stokes from Mobile, Alabama (LA
they call it - Lower Alabama) It's a type of pickled crab meat and very
much a delicacy. Noni says it's very pricey in most establishments in Lower
Alabama! Thanks for sharing it, Noni.
1 medium onion chopped fine
3 oz. cider vinegar
1 lb. lump crab meat
4 oz. ice water
4 oz. vegetable (Wesson) Oil
salt and pepper
Spread half of the onion over bottom of a large
bowl. Cover with separated crab lumps and then remaining onion. Salt and
pepper to taste. Pour oil, vinegar, ice water over everything. Cover and
marinate for two to twelve hours. Toss lightly before serving.
Additional note: Aside from the original recipe
above, Noni likes to add about a half of a bell pepper, finely minced,
to the onion.
She says that most restaurants serve this cold,
in very small portions rather than shrimp cocktail. She prefers it in large
quantities and on a bed of lettuce. Bon appetite!!!
|3 tablespoons butter
||1/2 teaspoon paprika
|2 tablespoons onion, finely
||3/4 teaspoon salt
|1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
||2 to 3 cups cooked crab meat
|3 tablespoons flour
||1 cup milk
|1 teaspoon dry mustard
||1/2 cup cream
|Red or black pepper, a few
||1/2 cup grated cheese
|1/2 cup buttered crumbs
Heat butter; add onion and cook over low heat
until onion is soft but not browned. Blend in flour and seasoning. Slowly
add mild and cook, stirring constantly over low heat until thickened. Add
cream. Remove from heat.
Pick over crab meat to remove any cartilage membrane
the may have been missed in cleaning. Add to hot sauce
Fill crab shell (washed and scrubbed) or cooking
shells. Sprinkle with buttered crumbs, grated cheese and a dash of paprika.
Bake in moderate oven (375 degrees) for twenty
to twenty-five minutes until brown. This makes six servings. Add five or
six shakes of hot sauce to crab meat if you like your deviled crab hotter.
Crab Meat Au Gratin
Pick over two cups of crab meat and remove cartilage. Combine
with two cups of medium white sauce, one and one half tablespoons lemon
juice, one and one-half teaspoons grated onion. Turn into greased casserole:
top with buttered crumbs and paprika (add a little grated cheese if desired).
Bake at 375 degrees for twenty-five minutes or until browned. This makes
six to eight servings.
Crab Meat Newbury
|1 cup cream or evaporated milk
||3/4 teaspoon salt
|1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
||1/2 teaspoon paprika
|1 tablespoon (or more) sherry
||1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
|3 tablespoons butter
||2 egg yokes
|6 slices buttered toast
||2 cups cooked crab meat
Heat the cream with the butter in top part of
a double boiler. Add crab, salt, paprika and nutmeg. Beat egg yolks; add
Worcestershire sauce and sherry wine and mix a little hot liquid with the
yolks. Pour the egg mixture into the sauce. Cook one or two minutes more
over simmering water. Serve on toast. This makes four to six servings.
Crab Cakes New Orleans
|1 pound (2-3 cups) cooked crab
||1 can celery, chicken or mushroom
|1 small can mushrooms (don't
||1 small can pimentos (cut up)
|1 can drained peas
||1 can whole kernel corn
|Pepper to taste
Use fresh vegetables if possible. Mix all ingredients,
place in Pyrex dish and cover with bread crumbs that have been slightly
buttered. Bake a 350 degrees for forty minutes. This will serve six people.
Hot Crab Dip
1 lb. crabmeat
1/2 pint sour cream
3 Tblsp. lemon juice
1/2 cup Cheddar cheese, grated (use 1/4 in mix and 1/4
2 ( 8 0z. ) pkg. cream cheese (at room temp.)
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. seafood seasoning
2 Tblsp. horseradish
Mix all ingredients together. Sprinkle cheese
on top. Cover with paprika. Bake at 350 degrees until crusty and bubbly,
about 30 minutes. Serve hot.