My wife and I are staying at her brother’s lovely home on the water near Solomons Island, Maryland. Yesterday, his wife Steph said, “Would you like to have crabs tonight?” Although we have often eaten crab cakes when we come here to visit, we had not experienced eating whole crabs for many years, so we said, “Sure!”
We stopped at a house down the street, with a homemade sign that said Live Crabs, and an older woman named Myrtie led us over to her garage, where she had a cooler with several bushel baskets containing crabs. “We’re just about out of the large’s,” she said. “My guy didn’t catch much yesterday.” She picked up a pair of tongs and started picking up the annoyed crabs one by one and placing them in a bag for us, until we had 2 dozen.
Blue crabs, which were once so numerous in the Chesapeake Bay you could practically walk across it on their backs, had been in decline for many years. But in 2008, the state of Maryland instituted new policies that restricted the harvesting of female crabs at certain times of the year, to ensure that they would be able to release their eggs. The policies have apparently been very successful, and crabs have rebounded this year to levels not seen for 20 years. Although fishermen and seafood wholesalers grumbled about the new rules, it’s good to see fishing policies that are working. And it makes me less guilty about enjoying a big pile of crabs.
Stephanie cooked the crabs outside in a propane crab steamer, while her husband taped large pieces of brown paper over the picnic table on the porch. Eating crabs is messy. Soon, we were sitting around the table eyeing a mound of the now-red crabs, and I realized I had forgotten how to start disassembling them, so Steph gave us a lesson. “Take your knife and pry up the ‘key’ on the underside,” she said, “then jam your thumb under the carapace and pull it off.” She then showed us which were the inedible lungs and other organs to be discarded, and where the good meat was located.
Eating crabs is a slow process, involving prying and teasing small pieces of crab meat out of tiny nooks and crannies. It’s really more of a social occasion, with good beer and good friends, than a way to fill your belly quickly. But the crab, liberally seasoned with vinegar and Old Bay seasoning, was a real treat and a true Chesapeake Bay experience.
Now all I need is the T-shirt that says, “I’m Crabby!”