This past weekend Chaser and I took a little trip down to Annapolis, Maryland to visit my dad and Mary Marie at their recently purchased home on the water. We only had 24 hours to visit, and in that time frame I was hell bent on doing two things: going sailing, and eating crabs. Thanks to a windy day and the best crabbing season in decades, we got to do both, and I’m not sure which one I enjoyed more. Okay, it was the crabs. Sailing is awesome, but nothing tops a picnic table full of perfectly steamed blue claws, sweet white corn, potatoes, melted butter and plenty of ice cold beer.
We took a nice sail into Annapolis Harbor on their stunning 41′ Gozzard sailboat, the Eleanor Q, named after my dad’s late grandmother Eleanor Quigley. We sailed past the Naval Academy and right down ego alley, where everyone gets to show off their boats. If you’re into boats – or better yet, into sailing – Annapolis is your dream town. Everything is built around the sailing culture, which is why dad and “Ems” (as well call her) fit in so well.
We arrived back at the dock and pulled up the crab traps, which had caught a few, but the rest were purchased. My dad has this neat trick where he tries to pawn off store bought seafood as his own by putting a fresh flounder on a fish hook or, in this case, putting the live crabs into the trap. Nice try, dad. You’re not fooling anybody!
We started off the evening by grilling up some local Chesapeake oysters. Dad fully admitted to buying these, and we couldn’t wait to shuck a few and slurp them down raw. But soon we realized that what dad thought was an oyster knife was actually a clam knife, and it was too weak to pry them open. Instead, we threw them on the grill with some wood chips to lend a smokey flavor. When they started to sizzle and pop, we pulled them off, pried them open and dunked them in melted butter and hot sauce. I would have been happy eating those all night, but I had to save room for the crabs!
There are lots of different ways to cook crabs, but in my very humble opinion, this way is the best. We took part in many crab boils when we lived in Louisiana – and they were great! – but I always remember thinking “these would be better Maryland style.” I love the spicy Cajun seasoning on my crawfish and shrimp, but when it comes to crabs, you just can’t top Old Bay. Maybe it’s nostalgia for the way we always had them, but I’m pretty sure I just prefer the overall flavor, and I’m definitely not alone.
We steamed them up with part beer and part vinegar – a trick learned from Chaser’s Dad – which adds flavor and helps tenderize the shells for easier picking. They get doused with as much Maryland crab seasoning, aka Old Bay (my personal favorite, although there are certainly other variations out there), as you can handle – and we can handle a lot. Not everyone likes to eat theirs with melted butter, but there are few foods out there that I don’t like to eat with melted butter. Nevertheless, they don’t need it. The fresh blue crab meat is so sweet and flavorful on it’s own.
Many people prefer to clean the crabs – or better yet, purchase already cleaned crabs – prior to steaming them, but I find they never have as much flavor. We like to steam them whole and pick them apart at the table. It might be easier and not nearly as messy when you clean them first, but the taste is unparalleled.
Picking crabs can be intimidating if you’ve never done it before, but honestly, it’s pretty easy. Crab mallets and claw crackers are really just a novelty, all you need is a butter knife and some determination. First remove the big claws and save them for later – I like to hoard them all and crack them at the end. Turn the crab over so the white belly is facing up. Use a butter knife to lift up the long narrow piece of shell that runs down the middle, then extend it up over top and pull off the orange shell. Use a paper towel to wipe out the eyes, guts and fatty “mustard” – how much you leave on is up to you – then split the body in half. Carefully peel the thin white shell away from the meat to reveal the beautiful back fin lump. This is the best part of the crab.
Dip it in some butter if you like, then a little bit of Old Bay and devour. The rest of the meat will be a bit more challenging to get at, but that’s the fun of picking crabs. You have to work for it, so be sure to have a cooler of cold beers close by, some good tunes on the stereo and of course, good company. I can spend all night picking, drinking and savoring, and that’s exactly what we did.
One Year Ago: Strawberry + Goat Cheese Pastries
- cheap beer
- white distilled vinegar (or whatever you have on hand - not balsamic, though)
- As many crabs as you want (about 3-6 per person is a good start, depending on size)
- plenty of Maryland crab seasoning, such as Old Bay, plus more for serving
- melted butter, for dipping (optional)
- Add about 1 inch of half beer and half vinegar to the bottom of a large steamer pot. If you don't have a steamer pot, you can place a rack on the bottom of the largest pot you have. Bring the liquid to a boil, then add a layer of crabs. Be careful, they'll put up a fight! Sprinkle the crabs liberally with Maryland crab seasoning, then add another layer of crabs and repeat until you can't fit any more. Cover and steam for about 10-15 minutes, depending on size. Larger crabs will take closer to 15, and smaller crabs closer to 10.
- Line a big table with newspaper or brown paper bags, then dump the steamed crabs out on top. Serve immediately with extra old bay, melted butter, corn on the cob and roasted potatoes (optional) and plenty of ice cold beer (not optional).
- Maryland blue claw crabs are certainly the preferred variety, but any type of crab will work. Adjust cook time as needed.