June 02, 2008

How to Steam Blue Crabs

apple cider vinegar
Old Bay
kosher or coarse salt
live blue crabs

In a large boiling pot with a 2 inch raised rack add water and vinegar in equal amounts until the level is just below the rack. Bring to a boil. Drop the crabs into the pot in single layers*, sprinkling each layer with a thick coating of Old Bay and salt. The larger the pot, the more crabs you can steam at once, just make sure that the lid is still able to fit tightly. Steam in batches if you have to. Cover the pot and steam until until crabs turn a bright orange, about 20 minutes. If the shells are dark red or have reddish-green patches, then the crabs are not fully cooked and you need to keep steaming them. I found that stirring occasionally with a long handled spoon helped make sure the crabs at the top were cooked enough. Remove the crabs from the pot with tongs and serve on a newspaper lined table, preferably outdoors. Make sure you have lots of paper towels! Now, I am a Baltimore native and an experienced crab picker so I normally don't need any utensils beyond my fingers but it is often wise to have wooden crab mallets, butter knives or even nut cracking tools handy in case you need them to get the last bits of crab out of the shell. Now you are ready to get picking!

*Wear gloves! Refrigerating the crabs before you steam them keeps them alive and dopey but they still want to pinch and are stronger than you'd think.

My thoughts:
Steamed crabs are the quintessential Baltimore food. I actually have never steamed them at home until today but when I scored 16 good-sized, sweet crabs for $11 because they were packing up for the day at the farmer's market, I couldn't resist. Normally, they run about $20 a dozen. Steaming the crabs was super easy-I had seen people steam them before (mostly while I waited to pick up my order) so pretty much knew what to do. I even ran out of Old Bay 3/4 of the way through and they were still good! Of course, admitting that I ran out of Old Bay is enough to get me run out of town, but in my defense, my New Yorker husband claimed that a 6 oz tin was "more than enough Old Bay" for the Summer. I knew we needed the 1 lb tin. I found that using apple cider vinegar gave the crab a subtle tang that accentuated the crab's sweetness. I know some people like to steam in beer but I think that obscures some of the crab's natural flavor. Simple is best!

So, if you have access to fresh, live blue crabs, it is worth it to pick some up! It is super easy to steam them at home (even if you have to make a makeshift crab pot) and cheaper than getting them out. Old Bay is available in most groceries stores in the seasonings and spices isle or in the seafood department.

Learn how to get all of the succulent meat out here.

Also: a quick welcome to all of my new visitors who found me via the article this month in Baltimore Magazine! I've enjoyed all the emails and well-wishes! Thanks!