"Nothing beats the joy of steaming or boiling whole crabs, to be shelled and eaten with gusto at the table."
I can’t pinpoint when my passion for crabbing crept into the realm of obsession. But as I pulled up my crab pot for the fiftieth time this morning, I realized that I might have a tiny problem.
Looking down at my net full of fat, meaty crabs, I wondered: Who was really the trapped one? I thought about the real meaning of addiction—roughly defined as damaging behavior marked by compulsion and psychological preoccupation.
Certainly, the part about compulsion rang true. Though I had planned to stay at the docks for only an hour or two, my arms kept throwing the crab pots back into the ocean, time and time again. And as for my preoccupation with the subject matter, I found that in my waking hours, my time spent crabbing was quickly approaching the time I spent writing. Even in my sleep, I dreamt happy dreams about swimming among the blue claw crabs in Patchogue.
Was all that crabbing was good for me in the long run?
Was my crabbing interfering with my work? My friends and family? Or, worst of all, my eating? When framed in these terms, my crabbing behavior seemed perfectly harmless. After all, it’s not every summer that I’m here in Long Island, living out my dreams of dwelling near the sea. And yet, I thought about all the great books and works of art, and all the places I could’ve gone if I’d not had one foot in the ocean everyday. In the end, I decided that Dostoyesky could wait. After all, he’s good and dead. But my crabs from Patchogue are the liveliest, meatiest crabs I’ve ever eaten!
The blue claw crabs are becoming more numerous with each passing moment. In the past week alone, I’ve brought home thirty to forty crabs each time—no small matter, considering that the legal limit is fifty per day. Though I toss many small ones back into the sea, the crabs that I keep measure six to seven inches in length. For a blue crab, this is a very respectable size, as their maximum length is nine inches.
With my buckets brimming full, I’m frequently faced with the wonderful dilemma of what to do with all that crab. In the refrigerator, the critters can be kept alive in a paper bag for up to a day with no noticeable change in their freshness. After that, I steam or boil the remaining crabs to preserve the integrity of the meat, reserving them for my various experiments.
Thus far, I’ve tried my hand at crab cakes, crab bisque, stir-fried crab, crab ravioli, crab salad, and crab soup. While these recipes have all been delicious, I’m still convinced that nothing beats the joy of steaming or boiling whole crabs, to be shelled and eaten with gusto at the table. It’s only through taking apart a crab that I can really appreciate the delicacy of the meat and the sweetness of the roe.
Mostly, I vacillate between a Louisiana-style crab boil, with a bag of Zartarain’s tossed in, and a Maryland-inspired steaming in beer and Old Bay. When crabs are on the table, I try to keep the accompaniments to a minimum. The accoutrements must be items I can eat with my messy, crabby fingers, like biscuits or duck fat fries. At the end of the meal, there is nothing left on the table but piles of crab carcasses, all eaten clean and precariously perched in mounds.
To my eyes, there is never a sight as fine as these mountains of crab shells, pithy reminders that the best things in life are worth hauling in.