‘BEAUTIFUL SWIMMERS’

The end is near.  Not the end of the world, silly, October is the end of crabbing season in Maryland waters.  Fall is the best time to eat them, unbeknownst to many who don’t live here.  Maryland blue crabs are larger, meatier (fat and happy) and noticeably sweeter~ probably from ‘bottom feeding’ all summer long.

‘Beautiful swimmers’ is a fitting name for blue crabs and the title of a book that I have read.  When Bob and I sailed the waters of the Chesapeake years ago we were usually moving slowly so that we were able to see these creatures from bow to stern swimming.  GORGEOUS!

Having said that the fall season is the best for crabs, I must comment on the oddity of the harvests this year.  Crabs started out in great numbers in the spring then fell off in early fall.  If you could get them in September or October they were light and certainly not ‘Jimmies’.  NOT TYPICAL at all.  The watermen have multiple theories:  increased rain in early fall, change in shedding patterns, decreased salinity of the water and so on.  Who really knows…

My thoughtful sister-in-law Pat recently sent to me an article from the NY Times with crab recipes.  It was the inspiration for this post.  I applaud the journalists for writing about lower New England blue crabs but it just sounds so oddly dissimilar to me from a Chesapeake blue crab. Their crabbing seasons must be vastly different in length due to water temperatures. The Chesapeake Bay is a national fishery for crabs but theoretically all Atlantic blue crabs of the Eastern Seaboard from Massachusetts to Florida are of the same species.  Can you wrap your brain around that?  I simply cannot but it is a fact.  In any case, respect the watermen who catch them- tough way to earn a living but it is in their ‘blood’ as they will tell you.

I would never begin to explain how to pick a blue crab as 99.9% of you reading this post already know the ‘tricks’.  Instead, I will share some of my savory recipes and tidbits about Callinectes sapidus (Atlantic blue crabs).

I love the term ‘crab feast’ as a feast it is~  hard shell crabs, corn on the cob, potato salad, hush puppies, beer…We have hosted many here at the river and just as crab season ends so does corn season- a miraculous coincidence!  Years ago we were invited to an unusual crab feast.  Our very dear friends the Zijps hosted a local crab dinner prepared by their Sri Lankan friend Vimela.  Now, I have always believed that you need to be careful with spices and crab meat so as not to overwhelm its sweet, delicate flavor.  BOB AND I WERE OVERWHELMED!  Vim is a gourmet cook and the blend of Indonesian spices that she sautéed the crabs in only enhanced their delicacy.  I cannot duplicate this recipe but felt it was necessary to remark about.  Thanks Vim for a cherished memory we will never forget and of course our hosts that evening Mir and Will.

Sooooo… here at the river hard shell crabs are STEAMED in beer, vinegar, water and of course crab spice.  My crab cakes don’t have filler- only mayonnaise and raw egg for binder and are always broiled, never fried.  Okay, mustard, parsley and Old Bay seasoning are added as well.  I don’t care to freeze lump crab meat but will freeze claw meat in milk for soups and dips.  Purists are surely howling!

On to the recipes…

ALI’S CHOPTANK RIVER CRAB SOUP

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup butter
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 celery ribs, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 T. tomato paste
  • Pinch of curry powder, if desired
  • Pinch of ground turmeric
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 t. fresh ground black pepper
  • ½ cup dry sherry- quality sherry you would drink, not cooking sherry
  • 5 cups fish stock, seafood stock, clam juice or any combination
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • ½  t. dried tarragon
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 lbs. fresh lump crabmeat
  • Fresh parsley, chopped for garnish

Preparation:

  1.  Melt butter with oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat.
  2. Add onion and next 4 ingredients; cook until tender, about 8 minutes.
  3. Stir in flour and next 5 ingredients, cook one minute, stirring frequently.
  4. Add sherry and stock; stir until blended.
  5. Stir in parsley and tarragon; bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered for 15 minutes.
  6. Pour mixture through a strainer, pressing on solids with a spatula, discard solids.
  7. Return soup to the Dutch oven; stir in cream.  Cook over medium heat 25 minutes or until soup is thickened.
  8. Add crabmeat; cook for a few minutes to warm through.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  9. Garnish with crabmeat and parsley.

                                         

The turmeric will give this soup a golden color and technically could be called a bisque.  If I had a business here I would enter this soup in the Taste of Cambridge cookoff contest.  I have served this as a soup shooter appetizer as well which is a fun hit at parties.

There are no restaurants here that serve she-crab soup and my recipe is a spin-off of a she-crab soup recipe from a restaurant in Pawley’s Island, SC where I have vacationed for the last 25 years.  That recipe did not use the roe (eggs) of a she-crab either and technically that is the ingredient that gives the recipe its name.  Just a little toodle-doo.

ALI’S CRAB DIP

Ingredients:

  • 1-8 ounce brick of cream cheese, softened
  • ¼ cup dry white wine
  • Splash of Worchestershire sauce
  • Dollop of prepared horseradish
  • 1 lb. fresh crab meat
  • Old Bay seasoning

Preparation:

  1. Combine first 4 ingredients, blend well.
  2. Gently fold in crab meat.
  3. Place in small, greased casserole dish and sprinkle Old Bay over entire dip.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and let stand a few minutes to set.
  5. Serve hot with crackers or bread slices of choice.

This dip is requested time and time again.  I use claw meat because I almost always have it in the freezer and it works well.  I serve this with water crackers to let the dip shine through but I must confess that I have also eaten it cold the next day on a baquette for lunch!

I suppose you could call my crab topping for pasta a recipe.  We always buy too many crabs (an oxymoron?) and often with leftover meat I will toss it over Bob’s homemade pasta with butter, Old Bay seasoning and parmesan cheese.  Quick in a pinch and simply delectable!

On a final note, one of our favorite places to dine is Bistro Poplar here in Cambridge.  When in season, Chef Ian Campbell makes a fantastic fried green tomato and tops it with gently sautéed crab meat.  Combine it with one of his signature salads and you easily have a meal.

Remember, ingredients are just guidelines for a recipe. So switch it up, make it and own it!  Bon Appétit!

ALI

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2 comments

  1. I’ve never seen crabs swim and can’t imagine how cool it would be to see them swimming en masse alongside a boat. Great post, though now I’m in need of a Maryland crab feast!

    Like

  2. Donna Wilson · · Reply

    Ahhhh…nothing like crackin’ crabs in THE Neck District.

    Like

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