Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Steamed Crabs on the Brooklyn Paper

My usual fish people are not at the farmer's market these days, they go to Florida from January through March. There was a new fish guy on a recent Saturday morning and along with the workaday flounder and cod fillets, he was selling blue crab.

It was freezing outside that morning and the crabs were quite still in their basket. "Oh, they're alive alright," the fisherman said. "They're just cold." And he stuck his gloved hand into the bucket and picked up a crab. It immediately began snapping its claws at him.

But I've never cooked a crab in my life, I thought, and I certainly have no idea how to eat them. The fisherman showed me how to clean them on the spot, removing a kind of "tail" that is folded flat on the underside, and then pulling off the top shell. He showed me where the good meat is, and the orange coral, or roe. He said that crabs hibernate this time of year, and they are meatier and sweeter than they are in the warm weather. Sounds reasonable.

At this point I essentially had to buy a few crabs. He had sacrificed one to show me the cleaning process, after all. I bought a half dozen and we brought them to my friend Deetrane's house that evening where he steamed them with Old Bay seasoning and we went to town. They're not that difficult to eat, actually, although my fingers did acquire many tiny scrapes and puncture wounds, each of which was partially caurterized by the Old Bay.

So this past weekend, although no one would eat them with me (BrooklynLady is not a fan), I decided to try this at home. First, let me tell you, do not to look too closely at the crabs' faces when you're preparing them. They really do look like giant bugs from outer space.

I kept things simple and followed the Old Bay recipe, what I would call Baltimore-style, although please feel free to castigate me if I have slandered a regional classic. It says on the back of the can to mix equal parts water and vinegar, and to use a half cup of Old Bay to season the crabs before steaming them for about a half hour. I wonder why it's important to include vinegar in the steaming liquid?

A half cup looked like an awful lot of Old Bay. So I used a bit less than a quarter cup. I should have followed the recipe and used more, as a good deal of the seasoning ended up in the steaming liquid after cooking, not enough on the crabs. They were delicious anyway, but the Old Bay bites were the best bites.

I wanted to create a little bit of a Baltimore crab shack atmosphere in my dining room, so I spread out some newspaper and dumped the crabs right onto the table. Here, I must mention that the choice of newspaper is of great importance. Using the Daily News or the Post would surely have imbued the crabs with poor flavor. I could have used the Wall Street Journal, but I wanted the crabs to have joyous flavors, not bitter and frightened ones. The NY Times would probably have worked well, but I wanted my newspaper to lend the crabs an earthy local tone, nothing fancy, but nothing too shabby either.

I must say, it was almost a shame to eat the crabs - they looked so great splayed out on the Brooklyn Paper, all red from their steam bath, bit ruddy from the old bay. Anyone who eats crabs will tell you that things get messy very quickly.

And what to drink with this little feast? Deetrane and I drank Riesling at his house, and that was very good. There are several wines I was thinking about, and I almost opened a bottle of 1998 López de Heredia Rose. But in the end it just seemed like a meal that wanted cold beer. I poured a nice glass of Sly Fox Chester County Bitter, a cask beer from Pennsylvania whose light carbonation comes only from the fermentation in cask.

The whole thing was delicious, a special treat. And this time my fingers suffered only a few minor lacerations.


Dan said...

Awesome. Now, you need to wait until the end of the summer and catch your own blue claws. I do it with my kid. They are teeming along bay docks on Long Island (Captree)and are fun and easy to catch. And it appears that you got the cooking technique and beverage down already. Well done.

Henri Vasnier said...

One of the very best matches on planet Earth, any food, any wine, is crab and Sancerre. But any fine sauvignon blanc will do.

Joe Manekin said...

I think that beer, given the classic Bmore old bay treatment (even if executed with a lighter touch) was the proper call. Then again, though I'm from Baltimore, I grew up in a traif free environment, and these days I rarely eat crab as my girlfriend is allergic, so what do I know from crab and wine/beer pairing?

Dan said...

I agree with you Henri on crab and sancerre, but in this dish you are really pairing the wine/beer with the very powerful Old Bay seasoning. It is the dominant flavor.

Weston said...

crabs are spiders of the see, I mean they both have fur, crabs especially dungenese are under the belly!


ned said...

How was that pairing? Crab is pretty delicate and light flavored. Certain Champagnes certainly work brilliantly. Sancerres of course. Muscadet too. I would think bright pilsners and yeasty golden ales would pair better than darker styles. Of course, complimentary matches are easier and more obvious than astute contrasty ones.

Jamie said...

Those crabs sure look appetizing. Can't wait to have my teeth on those claws. Yummy!

bob said...

wow, look at that, I'm already drooling, great color, looks delicious

ben wood said...

Baltimore indeed! That's right on the money, but using a lot of old bay is key! I would try this with Lard des'choix blanc, or a good sancerre or cheverney . . . though in Baltimore, mostly with beer!

Anonymous said...

Great article BG! rivals your Wasserman trio! Really it does. I spent an early Sept. day with her and Dominick Lafon in '83. She's a true burgundian vinophile.

the always …but…
spell it cauterized not quarterized

Unknown said...

As a native Marylander who has enjoyed more than my fair share of crustaceans, I commend you on discovering the best thing to come out of our home state beside Cal Ripken…the jewel of the Chesapeake….blue crab.

I must offer the following words of advice, however, should you choose to get your hands dirty again.

1. Old bay should never be dusted, sprinkled, or even poured. It should be unleashed on its target. It knows of no food it can not improve and should be enjoyed on just about anything that can’t run from it. Why it is sold in containers smaller than oil drums is a mystery to me.

2. Don’t get me wrong…I like wine. Hell, I love it. But, where I come from, pairing it with blue crabs is like yelling “God is dead!” in a crowded church. Its like wearing a pink tuxedo to a rodeo. Its like kissing your sister. We drink beer with crabs and lots of it.