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.
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.
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?