Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Crabs, Part 3: How to cook and eat them

How does one dispatch a crab? OK, sorry - that's a euphemism. How does one kill a crab in order to cook and eat it? There: I've faced up to it.

In two previous postings, we've met crabs, and learned how to catch them. Now how do we get them into the cooking pot?

When we first moved onto the water, we were told a lot of things. One method (which I suppose we have all heard) is to just throw them into the cooking pot while they are alive. This method has the following drawbacks:
  • The crab doesn't want to go in the pot. Imagine trying to put a cat into a cat carrier, except with crab pinchers.
  • You need a really big pot.
  • This is by far the clincher for me: you're boiling the poor creature alive. They react to this just about like you'd expect.
OK, so that method is out for me. I'd also read about pithing them (think: high school biology; frogs). Supposedly a crab's brain is just aft of the forward edge of the shell and between the eyes. I tried crushing a couple there with pliers - again, I was just torturing the poor things.

Finally, Art showed us the way. Remember we were talking about the "sex plate" on their under sides as a means of determining gender? Well, it turns out that if you turn the crab over and strike a sharp blow on that plate - hard enough to break it - you will kill it instantly. I mean:


I use our bronze winch handle to do the deed.

Discarding the parts of the crab that won't be eaten is quick: with one hand, hold the shell, and with the other, put your thumb on that broken plate and weave your fingers in with the 4 legs. Lever the legs up and in, away from the shell. Setting the shell and the other legs aside for a minute, look at what you have in your hand. You will see 4 legs and some grey, curved finger-looking things on them. These are the crab's gills - you should pick them off and throw them back into the water. Give the legs a quick slosh in the water to rinse off anything else, and they are ready. Do the same with the other side, and throw the shell and contents back in the water. (Trust me - the other crabs down there will see this as manna falling from heaven.)

You will need about 1 full set of legs per person. If everybody is starved, then 3 crabs will serve 2 people.

Here's how we cook crab on Eolian:
  • In a suitable sized pan, put 1/4" - 1/2" of water (I like to use 50/50 salt/fresh), and put it on the heat. We are not going to boil the crab; we are going to steam it.
  • When the water is boiling, sprinkle in some crab boiling spices, add the crab, and put on a lid.
  • The crab will be done when the meat at ends of the legs is no longer translucent - maybe 3-5 minutes, depending on the size of the pot, the size of the flame, and how much crab is in there. Another bit of evidence will be steam escaping from the pot - this won't happen until the crab inside is heated; if it were still cool, the steam would be condensing on the crab instead of escaping. Don't over-cook it. For us, well we have pots with glass lids, so it is easy to see when it is done.
Each person should be provided with a plate to work on, or maybe just a clear spot on the dock, and plenty of paper napkins. If you are eating inside, a bowl will be needed to collect the emptied shells. Each person will definitely want a crab cracker to open the shells to get at the meat. The pointy end segments of the legs make excellent, disposable picking tools to get the last bits of meat from the far recesses of the joints. (Here we have put a towel over the pot to keep the crab warm until we get to it. And beer has been substituted for wine - beer works too.)

Separate a leg from your crab half, and first dip the meaty end into your little pot of melted butter. Stick it in your mouth, and use your lips and tongue to separate the meat from the little bony separator plates. When you have gotten all of that meat, put the first joint ( the one that was closest to the body) in between the jaws of the cracker, tall way up. Crack it a couple of places along it's length, and you should be able to pull away half of the shell and get at the meat. Dip it in the butter! Have a sip of wine! (yes, your wine glasses are going to get dirty finger prints all over them. Shelling crab and eating it is not something you do in evening attire.

Eating crab is like eating corn on the cob. Everybody has a system. I work from the small legs to the big one with the claw. That leg is special, since it is the mother lode - there is meat even in the elbow joint - that's why I save it for last.

Crab caught, cooked and eaten like this will have a wonderful rich, sweet flavor, not very much at all like the strong taste of the whole-cooked crab you find in the grocery store (if you live in a coastal area), let alone the canned variety.

Go ahead! What are you waiting for?

Get crackin!


Mike said...

I almost emailed you yesterday to ask when this follow-up post was coming. Your text is very detailed but I think a video would be helpful. But of course, then you'd have to eat some more crab and drink some more beer!

bob said...

...and that would be bad how? :)

That is a good idea - the cleaning takes way longer to describe than to do. I haven't done any videos yet - perhaps I should do this one when crab season is open again. Thanks for the suggestion!


Mike said...

You're welcome. I look forward to seeing it, hopefully before we get to crab country.

SV Estrellita 5.10b said...

We have a solid metal toe rail so Carol grab the crab by both sets of legs and hits the crab hard right in the middle which breaks it in half. You can do the same thing with the edge of a dock.

bob said...

Livia -

If you guys get down here this summer, I'd like a demo of that technique!


Mike said...

Video, Livia, video!

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