Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Tasty Summer Memory

As summer officially draws to a close with this upcoming Labor Day weekend, I would like to share with you a quintessentially Maryland summer experience.

During the hazy heat of July, we were treated to a tasty Maryland tradition – a Chesapeake bayside luncheon “picking” crabs. Our hosts motored us on their beautiful boat, the “Bayrunner," across the Chesapeake Bay from the state capital of Annapolis on the western shore of Maryland to Rock Hall on the eastern shore – destination: Waterman’s Crab House!

The Maryland blue crab, Callinectes Sapidus , which means "beautiful swimmer," contains the sweetest and tenderest of meats. One can be lazy and order crabcakes, crab imperial, crab Norfolk-style or even soft shells, but a true Marylander must order at least a half bushel – preferably jumbos or extra larges - and surround a brown paper- or newspaper-covered table for the L-O-N-G time it takes to sit with friends and/or family and some pitchers of cold beer to pick the crabs clean of their sweet goodness. You get dirty as you eat, so plenty of paper towels are at hand!

Before the crabs are brought to the table, they must be steamed gently with rock salt and some beer and seasoned liberally with Old Bay Seasoning – a combination of celery salt, mustard, pepper, laurel leaves, cloves, pimento, ginger, mace, cardamom, cassia, and paprika – manufactured by the Baltimore Spice Company.

The only tools necessary for removing the meat from the shells are a wooden mallet and your fingers! You will also need a bucket in which to discard the shells and other inedible parts.

Here’s how we pick crabs in 7 easy steps:
1) Pick out a crab – grab one with both claws!
2) Bend or twist the legs and claws to snap them off at the body. Set the claws aside. There is not much meat (if any) in the legs so put them in the shell bucket.
3) Pull off the "apron" with a knife or with your fingers - simply slip your finger under the edge of the point and pull down. It should pull off easily.

4) Pry the shell away from the body using both hands and pulling the crab halves in opposite directions.
5) Flip the crab over. Remove the squishy, grey gills and discard in the bucket. The yellow stuff -colloquially known as the "mustard" - is edible.
6) Crack the crab in two. Pull out any loose crabmeat and eat it. Crack the halves and extract the meat and eat the wonderful lump meat!
7) Hold both sides of the crab claw and break apart. The claw meat should come off on the claw. If not, break the claw with your mallet. The other half of the claw has meat as well. Break it off at the joint. If this doesn't yield meat, hit it with your mallet.

Repeat this process with as many crabs as you can eat!

This short video illustrates the process well.

In Maryland, we do NOT use butter on our crabmeat – that’s for Maine’s lobsters! The sweet meat is eaten plain, or dipped in even more Old Bay, apple cider vinegar, and/or Worcestershire sauce.

THIS is what summer tastes like in Maryland!

The medieval-inspired flag of Maryland – did you know that the state sport is jousting?!

The Maryland state flower: the Black-eyed Susan…


  1. Dear Cassandra, How wonderful that you are back. Yes, I should have loved to have eaten at Waterman's Crab House, but, and this is a big but, I really dislike eating with my fingers. Thank goodness that, as I am no Marylander, I should have been able to order the fishcakes. They sound just perfect!

  2. Cassandra, An all-you-can-eat crab dinner would be perfect for the last week of summer. Now if I could just teleport myself to Maryland. Thanks for stopping by the cottage today. xo, Rosemary

  3. Dear Cassandra,

    Oh, oh, oh! I am an ocean girl. I do love my Pacific ocean and all of the sailing that I have done, there, AND the beautiful beaches (with no sharks!) However, the East Coast has the tall ships and the shell fish and the WONDERFUL maritime history. Your post has just hit on some of my very favorite things in life. Happiness! (hmm, and "hungriness", now!)

    I've had a craving for salt air and am feeling very landlocked at the moment. I'm hoping that we can go to the shore - almost any briny shore - when my parents come out in October!!!

    Thank you for you comment about Toby. You DO understand. The resources and opportunity are there for him at school - it's just a struggle to discover them and, then, to have them implemented. Thank goodness for the school, though. I couldn't do this without them!!!

    I will just mention to you that my other two sons have been diagnosed with Aspergers, since Toby's first diagnosis. Socially, school is harsh for my oldest and he just started Jr. High, yesterday. Here we go!!!

    Love, Katy

  4. Cassandra I am officially starving now and no crab around here, just some frozen steelhead trout for supper. I don't know if my imagination is that good but I am going to give it a try!
    Wish I was there!
    Tina xo


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