QUOTE OF THE DAY (OR MORE): "No, no. You don't understand. This is an '89 Calico. I'm pretty sure that exceeds the Kelly Blue Book value. The cat's totaled." --A comedian whose name I forget talking about a vet who presents a $3,000 bill for a 12-year-old cat

Monday, June 15, 2009

Crabs, hon?

I live in Maryland. People eat crabs here. Well, let me rephrase that. People love crabs here. People crave crabs here. People go bananas over crabs here.

Yeah, well…” you’re thinking. “So? Lots of people love crab.”

There is a subtle, yet prodigious, difference, however, between “crab” and “crabs.”

“Crab” is crabmeat that has been dutifully, tediously picked from the crustacean already and added to a sophisticated recipe, such as a crabcake, crab dip, or crab imperial. Don’t EVER try to convince a Marylander that it’s okay to eat “crab” anyplace but within the confines of the state of Maryland; he or she will laugh sardonically, turn slightly away from your line of sight, and roll his or her eyes, thinking to him or herself: “what a white trash heathen to sugget that crab is properly prepared anywhere but in Maryland.” Even within the Old Line State, mere non foodies are choosy about their crab; restaurants inside the state’s borders quickly acquire reputations for having a good crabcake… or… well, not. Marylanders raise snobbery to a novel level, to put it euphemistically, about how their crab is prepared.

A different connotation altogether, however, is evoked by “crabs.” By gargantuan contrast, “crabs” are an event: a long afternoon or evening of sitting down with friends or family, mallet in one hand and beer in the other, in front of a huge pile of hot, steamed crabs, deliciously seasoned with Old Bay and ready to be dissected, cave-man-like style.

Whereas “crab” is consumed year-round in a civilized manner with a fork and tablecloth, perhaps accompanied by a nice Pinot Grigio, “crabs” are best enjoyed with a large, rowdy group on a summer day with a versatile brown paper covering (protecting) the table to soak up the Natty Boh (a local Maryland beer), crab guts and intestinal mustards. It is conceivable that a belch or two could be heard.

Notwithstanding the barbaric nature of the tradition (the first people to crack open a crab for food must have been exceedingly hungry), there exists a proper way to pick steamed crabs, and only Marylanders, and the friends and relatives to whom Marylanders have carefully chosen to convey the secret, have the knowledge.

Recently we were invited to our first crab feast of the summer: the picnic tables were covered with heavy brown paper, the steamed crabs dumped into piles strategically in the middle, each person armed with a mallet and knife, the beer bottles distributed accordingly. A toast was made, the beer bottles clinked, and the diners prepared to dismantle the crabs in search of the delectable backfin meat inside.

One among us, an outsider, raised his mallet high into the air, preparing to crash it down, MOST improperly, upon the large back shell of his crab…

The Marylanders, in stunned unison, stared at the New Yorker, transfixed with horror. For a brief moment, no one could speak. Then:

“WHOAH, WHOAH, WHOAH, WHOAH WHOOOOOAAAAH,…what are you doing?!” The silent observers agreed introvertedly.

After the initial shock and a deep breath, the outsider’s friend gasped: “Have you NEVER picked crabs before?” The table listened, anxious for a reply.

“Well, uh… no,” acknowledged the polite, intrepid guest.

“My goodness!” exclaimed the outsider’s friend. “Let me show you how…”

A collective sigh of relief was palpable as the guest learned the proper way to retrieve the meat from inside the crustacean, more beer was consumed, and shells and guts accumulated in piles.

It is officially “crabs” season, so enjoy your seafood responsibly.


  1. Wow, what a mess! I thought LOBSTA was bad. I actually dont like lobster and I only like crab if its mixed with stuff (forementioned crab cakes and whatnot). Very interesting post. I really had NO idea.

  2. I tend to enjoy crab...I never liked "CRABS"

  3. Very vivid description. With a little help I bet I could get over my shyness and EAT LIKE A PIG, cuz that's how I roll.

    It looks like fun.

    Intestinal mustards... puts the poup in Poupon.

  4. Being a Massachusetts native, I totally understand the snobbery that accompanies proper crustacean-eating. We prepare our lobster a certain way and judge others who can't do it correctly.

    I am also among the believers that dining such as this should take place in the privacy of a home (picnic table will suffice nicely) where one is not hampered by civility and can happily enjoy one's lobster dipped by hand in melted butter, with juices running down to one's elbows.

  5. Crab, crabs, lobster, lobsters, whatever, it's all friggin' delicious.

    And now I'm hungry.

  6. ha ha! we lived in Virginia for a few years and learned quickly of the crab feasts.

  7. I have eaten crab here many times in California. I'm sad to hear I've been doing it in the wrong state. We have also had Maryland crab, though, in a little place (can't remember the name) just outside Baltimore. The best crab cakes I ever throwed my lips over! This is a great piece about Maryland culture, by the way. I love reading stuff like this.

  8. Wow, now that looks like fun. I can only imagine that Florida natives are at the bottom of the crustacean-cracking totem pole, what with our fake lobster and all.

  9. At least the table was orderly. I have always wondered why the University of Maryland picked the turtle as its mascot. Are turtles more evocative of a fighting sports animal than a crab? Turtles are sluggish, while crabs are fast and also have those claws. Where was I going with this....?

  10. As a native-born and lifelong Marylander, I definitely relate to this excellent and entertaining post. As far as crab as an ingredient, I love the Cream of Crab Soup at Mr. Bills Terrace Inn in Essex. When there, I can't stop at one bowl.
    Good luck making the Boston Marathon. It sounds like you're not far from qaulifying.

  11. As a native-born and lifelong Marylander, I can definitely relate to this entertaining and well written post.
    When it comes to crab as an ingredient, I prefer the Cream of Crab Soup at Mr. Bill's Terrace Inn in Essex. When there, I can't stop at just one bowl.
    Good luck on making the Boston Marathon. It looks as if you're not far from qualifying.

  12. And I thought crabs were just an STD! How wrong was I?

  13. A few things.

    I only had to use my dictionary once...are you proud?!!?

    My tummy is somewhat turning as I have a hard time eating anything that is still in its house!

    I thought htis was going to be a "talk" with the boys about crabs...

    I wanna try. I think I could if I tried hard enough. We went out for date night Saturday and my husband ever so discreetly told the waitress to please remove my lobster from its house before she brought it to me. But I really to wanna try!

    Glad it "crabs" season for you.

  14. When we go sailing with Jon's father in the Chesapeake, we usually go to some fish restaurant where the crabs flow like boxed wine. I love it but never seem to order it when it involves that much work.

  15. Being Italian, we put out a big seafood spread on Christmas Eve. I thought we were messy and celebratory with our crabs legs still in shell.

    Clearly, we left-coasters know nothing. Is there a sort of Crabs Student Exchange Program I can attend out there...?

  16. I knew nothing about crabs until I moved to Maryland. Uh, yum...

  17. Do you guys ever grill the crabs like they do in the Lolo shacks on the big grills with all the hot spices in St. Martin? Those are the best lobsters ever... I would have to go to the East coast if there is a place that does it like that.

  18. YUM

    I was born in Maryland; the fam lived in Virginia. (Navy Brat). But I do remember ever so vividly standing on the beach during a lightning storm holding fishing rods (!) with raw chicken legs attached waiting for the crab. Loved watching the live crab thrown into the boiling pot of water. Then, of course, you know the rest of the story.


    Now I live on the opposite side of the country...I've never liked crab again. Now I know why. There's nothing like "fresh" crab.Thanks for the memories; through your memories. :)

  19. Mmmmmmmm... I LOVE crab and crabs! I don't happen to have a talent for "picking" them, though. PLEASE, invite me to your next crab feast! I am a most eager and willing student!

  20. Being from NJ I experienced my first crab feast just before turning 21 in 2002. I thought it was absurd how much work was required to yield such a small amount of meat. I definitely enjoy eating crabs, just not really willing to put in work to eat my food. So I make the vegans do it for me.

    But one can certainly not expect foreigners to the realm of a crab feast to know what they're doing off the bat! It would be the same as most of the tourists in NYC who have no idea where they are, how to differentiate up from down, east from west!


Please feel free to let me know what you think - especially if you like it. If not, please reconsider (just kidding!) I can take constructive criticism! Really I can...