Visiting Maryland and not dining on the state crustacean, the Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab, is like visiting Philadelphia and neglecting to partake in a cheesesteak or skipping the wine in Napa. It’s a must-do experience!
Crab cakes are a good introduction for the novice crab eater and Maryland-style is the way to do it. Jumbo lump backfin is the most valued meat of the crab. The large lumps are lightly bonded together with very little filler, and made into the size and shape of an O’s baseball. Yes, the good ones are roundish; they should not be pancakes. With the exception of perhaps some parsley, no vegetables are added to this masterpiece. It’s believed that onion and green pepper only detract from the crab’s delicate flavor. A hint of Old Bay is all that is needed—this Maryland condiment goes on everything! Though you can get them fried, broiled is usually preferred so again, the crabmeat is the star. Voila! You’ve now been initiated as an honorary Marylander in the making.
To really get your hands dirty and live life like a true native resident of the Chesapeake Bay area, a crab feast is in order. Steamed in a large “crab pot” with Natty Boh beer and vinegar and covered in Old Bay and rock salt is the standard recipe. Add some cayenne to really heat ‘em up. Gather your friends and family around a newspaper-covered picnic table and start picking! Typically, all you need is a knife, but some people use a wooden mallet to break open stubborn claws (try not to shatter the shell too much.) Schools of thought vary on how to access the meat, especially in the inner chambers, but this is the way I was taught by my father, who was taught by the former mayor of Baltimore, Thomas D'Alesandro Jr.:
1. Turn the Old Bay-drenched crustacean upside down and remove the “apron.” (It starts in the center of the crab and meets at the back of the top shell.)
2. Remove the top shell and scrape away the feathery gills on the sides and internal organs. Hint: try the yellow “mustard”—it literally looks like a Dijon and is delicious!
3. Here’s where I remove the legs, very gingerly to keep as much backfin meat attached as possible. It just feels rewarding to access the meat so easily…
4. Then break each leg at each joint to remove the meat from them. It may not be much, but waste not, want not. Snap the claw apart at the joint to access its interior meat as well.
5. Afterwards, you’re left with the two halves of the crab, each containing five chambers of meat. Cut length-wise through each half of the crab so you now have the crab quartered with ten accessible chambers of meat. Easily remove the meat with the tip of your knife and enjoy.
6. Start again with the next crab and keep repeating! Though it’s not necessary, try dipping your crabmeat in apple cider vinegar or drawn butter. Yum!
Now you’re a crab-picking pro! Next, do you dare to eat a soft-shell crab sandwich or try your hand at crabbing? Take it from a Marylander… both are highly recommended!