There’s little appealing about a creepy crustacean landing on your plate looking just as it did in life and knowing you have to tear it apart limb by limb to partake of it.
But all that aside, once you know what you’re doing and dive in fearlessly, Maryland’s Blue Crab is totally worth it.
Blue Crabs tend to like waters that range from ocean saltiness to fresh, which is what makes Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay an ideal spot for finding them. May to at most November is prime blue crab time, making eating them a staple for East Coast summers. The blue crab’s depth of flavor and smooth texture is what makes its proponents consider it superior.
I had the privilege of learning the skill behind crab eating on a recent trip to St. Michaels from a group of Marylander’s who no doubt love them some crab. And the best way to eat them is by the bushel, in your own home, where it can get all over the place and no shame is necessary. It’s also cheaper because there’s really no way you could get a bushel’s five or six dozen for $150 when you sit down to dine.
The first thing to know about is the paper. When you order a bushel of crabs—which in Maryland come steamed and encrusted in Maryland-made Old Bay—the place you get them from can provide you with very large pieces of paper, which you’ll need to completely cover whichever table you plan to eat on because it’s about to get messy.
Once your mind is set and paper down, it’s time.
Whoever’s closest to the bushel will hand you your first.
Pull the legs off one by one by giving them a little twist and pull and ditch them, there’s really nothing in there. Do the same for the claws, but save those for later.
Then turn it over. There’s almost a little tab on the underbelly (and you can distinguish male crabs from female as the ladies tab is triangle shaped and the male’s is more phallic, go figure). You could use a knife to pull the tab back if you’re desperate to be dainty, but dainty really has no room here—pull the tab back with your thumb.
Open the body by holding either side and breaking it apart at the center. Toss the yucky sort of see-through membrane on either side of where the tab was to uncover the best of the blue crab meat.
Don’t eat anything that looks green, or yellowish. That’s the part that filters impurities for the crab’s digestive system.
Once you’ve scooped out all of the meat with your fingers, or a knife if you must, go back for the claws (which have sort of the same appeal as finding bag fries after you think you’ve finished the fries in your McDonalds container—score!)
These you have to hit with a mallet, which will likely come with your bushel. Knife handles work too. This meat typically comes out with less effort and in nice chunky pieces. A welcome relief from all of your previous exertion for kind of little reward.
Don’t be surprised when you come up for air and realize you’ve thrown back 12 crabs, it happens. If you do take a break in between, I think corn on the cob works as the best side, and beer as the best beverage.
Then, sit and settle before concerning yourself with clean up and just let the succulent taste wash over you.
Note* Your fingers will smell of Old Bay for hours after, but you’ll like it.
Best places to eat blue crab in (or very near) St. Michaels: