Friday, June 22, 2012
Steamed Blue Crabs!
Steamed crabs are one of the best things about summer time! My family has steamed bushels of crabs for as long as I can remember. It was always a treat to go with my Dad to go get a bushel of crabs. He would always head down to a little seafood shop in our town. I used to love going to that place. They had a huge horseshoe crab hung on the wall that I was fascinated with every time we visited. In fact, that big horseshoe crab and some large blue crab shells was about all the place was decorated with, if you can call that decoration. There were a couple of glass enclosed display cases where they held fresh fish and other kinds of seafood and the smell during crab season was incredible. All you could smell in the place was the delicious aroma of blue crabs being steamed to perfection. My Dad always bought crabs "green," meaning living and ready to cook. One of my earliest memories is of my Dad paying a whopping $6.00 for a whole bushel of crabs! Nowadays, a bushel of live blue crabs in my area costs quite a bit more. It all depends on whether it's a holiday weekend and/or the available supply.
My Dad also took me "crabbing" on occasion too. We would take chicken necks, tie them to twine and toss them over the side of the dock. We would wait until we saw something tugging at the twine and then slowly pull the chicken neck upwards towards the surface of the water. When it got close enough, you could easily see if a crab was taking interest. If so, we would reach in under the water with a net and scoop out the crab. It was also during a crabbing trip that I had my first encounter with an electric fence. Someone who lived near the dock where we were crabbing had some cattle and a donkey. My Dad also raised cows and I grew up near a dairy farm so the cows weren't of much interest. But, I had never seen a donkey up close and I couldn't help but go over and try to pet it. Well, as I was scratching the top of the donkey's head, I inadvertently touched the fence which, unbeknownst to me at the time, was electrified. I quickly learned everything I ever wanted to know and much more about electric fences on that trip! I couldn't get in the water for the rest of the day because the residual electricity on my body made my legs tingle when they got wet.
Here is how my father taught me to cook blue crabs. If you ever get the chance to cook these little delicious morsels of goodness, please don't pass it up.
First, you will need a large pot to cook them in. I have used aluminum turkey fryer pots and stainless steel beer kegs that had the top cut off for my crab steamers. The pot I use now is the one my Dad gave me. It's a large stainless steal pot that has cooked so many bushels of crabs over the last more than 5 decades that I can't count them. You will also need a fire. My Dad used to sit two cinder blocks side by side with enough room between them to build a wood fire. He placed the crab steaming pot on the cinder blocks with the fire underneath. My neighborhood frowns on open fires, so nowadays I use a propane fueled burner. Whatever you are using as a pot, put it over whatever kind of fire source you have with about two inches of water in the bottom. Let the water come to a boil. Be careful when dealing with a large pot of boiling water! Once the water boils, I remove it from the fire so I can put the crabs in it. Now, I don't boil the crabs. I use a large perforated pizza pan with six inch bolts in it for legs that holds the crabs up above and out of the water in the bottom of the pot. This way, the crabs are steamed and not boiled.
Next, you will need some seasoning. Here is the recipe that we have used for decades. In a large bowl, thoroughly mix together:
2 Cups Old Bay Seasoning
2 Cups Fine Grind Black Pepper
2 Cups Table Salt.
Once you have all the crabs in the pot, put a lid on it and put it back on the fire. When you see wiffs of steam coming from the lid, that means you have about 20 minutes for the crabs to be done. The best thing about this part of the cook is the smell! The fresh crabs cooking in the Old Bay and black pepper create a magic aroma that exclaims "It's summer time!"
When they are done, dump them on a picnic table covered with newspaper. My kids like to dip the meat in apple cider vinegar, so I serve that in little bowls on the side. I prefer my crabs straight up with no vinegar. And the best thing about eating freshly steamed blue crabs is the fact that you just can't eat them fast. Everyone has to sit around the table and it's a great time to converse with family and friends.