When you think of the Chesapeake Bay, chances are blue crabs come to mind. If not, there’s a good chance you’ve never gotten to one. Blue crabs are sweet, rich, delicious and as memorable as a crustacean. Here they are as good as gold.
I am the fisherman in the family. My father, on the other hand – he is the crab. That’s not to say we don’t reverse roles from time to time, but that’s the typical split. I’m the type of guy who can casually throw half a dozen crab traps while fishing. My father has a similar approach. He wakes up at 4:00 a.m. to run a 1,200-foot snood-line with over a hundred baits from a boat that Jon runs. Like I said, he’s the crab.
Basically, a snood-line is a trot line with an additional component – a dropper. Here’s how it works. A long stretch of line is anchored at each end. The line should be taught, but not tight with banjo strings, more like a tuned bass guitar. Along the line every six feet or so, there is a one-foot dropper line which is attached to a bait. Dad and I are partial to razor clams in a mesh bag, but people usually use chicken necks and also salted American eel. Once the line is set, the crab rests all the way down, then picks up the line and places it on a ‘U’-shaped arm, which extends from the edge of the boat and sits above the surface of the water. While the boat is idle, the baits rise to the surface, up and over the side.
This is where temperament comes into play – blue crabs are tenacious, determined and usually not willing to pass up an easy meal. As the baits begin to surface, so do the crabs, clutching tightly at their razor clam prey. Once within range, the crab sinks into the net and is then transferred to a bushel basket. As I mentioned earlier, the line has over a hundred baits… so things can get pretty chaotic when the bite is hot. At the end of the run, the crab pulls the line off the arm, grabs the crabs, and then returns to the idler to do it again. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find that this downtime is the perfect opportunity to squeeze in a few casts.
Now that the bushel basket has some weight in it – what happens next? People along the Eastern Seaboard prepare blue crabs in all manner of ways, but here in Chesapeake Country, one method reigns supreme—steaming. Generally, locals season their crabs with either Old Bay or JO Crab Seasoning #2. I love Old Bay as much as the next Marylander, but when it comes to crabs, I’m a NO man through and through. JO Seasoning is thicker, spicier and contains much more sodium than Old Bay. In my opinion, it is the clear choice when it comes to crabs.
Sitting on a crab heap isn’t just about the meal, it’s just as much about the conversation, laughter and camaraderie inspired by the gathering. It’s a labor of love, best done with a few friends by your side and a few potential adult drinks. The recipe below is simple, time-tested, and known to impress even the proudest of Marylanders. And believe me, everyone from this state thinks they are authority on the crabs. Here he is looking at you.
Until next time, enjoy and good luck out there!
Steamed Blue Crabs:
- 2 dozen Jimmies (male blue crabs), live
- 1 cup distilled white vinegar
- 1 lager beer, it doesn’t have to be anything fancy
- 4 glasses of water
- 1.5 cups Seasoning NO Crab #2
- Melted butter, for dipping (optional)
- Extra Seasoning NO Crab #2, for dipping (optional)
1.) Place a footed steamer basket inside a steamer. If you don’t have a footed basket, use a false bottom to hold a standard steamer basket a few inches from the bottom. Place the pot on a propane burner or stove.
2.) Pour the vinegar, beer and water into the pot.
3.) Using tongs, place six crabs into the pot at a time. Season evenly with 0.25 cup JO Crab Seasoning #2. Repeat until all the crabs are in the pot and seasoned. You should have 0.5 cup of seasoning left at the end. Put a lid on the pot.
4.) Apply high heat. Once the crabs begin to steam, cook for 20 minutes.
5.) Turn off the heat, then transfer the crabs to a covered table. Sprinkle remaining JO Crab Seasoning #2 evenly over cooked crabs.
6.) Go to the polls. There is no way to choose a crab. It is a skill that is often passed down from generation to generation, with minor changes. But if you have no idea, check out the article “How to Pick a Crab Like You’re From Maryland” by Spoon University or the video “How to Pick a Crab” by Jay Flemming.
7.) If you’re a stickler, serve with melted butter and extra seasoning NOT Crab #2. Pair with your favorite lager, pilsner, gose, wheat ale, IPA or summer cocktail. Enjoy!
Article by Flylords Food Editor Kirk Marks, a fisherman, photographer and foodie based in Kent Island, Maryland. Give him a follow on @kirkymarks.
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