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!