Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Maryland is for Crabs

It's June, and that means it's time to eat crabs! (True of every other month of the year as well.) Please to enjoy an excerpt from our book, Food Lovers' Guide to Baltimore, with the addition of photos.

Here in Maryland, the act of cleaning steamed crabs, along with extracting (and eating) the meat, is known as “picking.” There are two schools of thought. One involves removing the legs before cleaning and the other does not. We like to remove the legs, since any meat that comes off with them is that much less we have to dig for later. Don’t just yank them out—grab a leg up high near the body and bend it downward. You should hear a small snap as it breaks away from the shell. Use a little finesse to gently wiggle the leg away from the body; hopefully there will be a hunk of meat attached to it. In the case of the backfin, there will be quite a bit of meat. If not, all is not lost—the meat is still inside. All crabs are different, so you won’t get lucky every time.

A crab and his legs are soon parted. Stop staring at me!
Next, turn the crab so it’s belly-up. Using a short, nonserrated knife, lift up the slim pointed tip of the flap-like apron (which is much larger on the female) and pull it upward until it’s perpendicular
to the body of the crab.

See the pointed tip of the flap?
At this point you should be able to slide the tip of the knife within the newly revealed gap between the bottom and top shells. Twist the knife and the halves should separate easily; remove the top shell.

Place your knife in that gap under the lifted apron, or use your
fingers if you prefer brute force.
What you have left will be pretty ugly, but stay with us! Use your knife or fingers to scrape off the gills or “dead man’s fingers” from both sides of the body, and remove the squiggly mess of guts
in the center.

Some of the squigglies are in the top of the shell, but you won't eat the shell,
so don't worry about them. The yellow, greenish-yellow, or brownish
pasty stuff, the "mustard," is edible, and actually tastes pretty good.
Some folks think it's fat, but it's actually the crab's hepatopancreas.
Mmmm! Doesn't that sound appetizing? 
Remove the gills, and the face while you're at it so it
won't stare at you anymore.
Whomever was the first to eat one of these was sure brave.
What you’ll have left is two halves of the body, joined by a thin piece of shell. With one half in each hand, bring them toward each other to crack the shell and separate them.

Grab each half...
...and snap the body in half.
Using the knife or your fingers, remove the meat from the various chambers that make up the crab’s body. The shell is quite easy to break with a little pressure, but the going might be slow until you get the hang of it.

When you’ve exhausted the supply of meat within the body, move on to the claws (the legs aren’t really worth bothering with, although there is some meat in them). Bend each “elbow” in the wrong direction to separate the top and bottom pieces of the claw. Grab the edges of the pincer (watch out, they’re sharp) and pull them apart. You should be able to wiggle the “thumb” portion of the pincer away from the shell, hopefully pulling out a piece of cartilage and a chunk of meat. If you only get part of it, use your hammer to crack the shell and remove it the hard way. Use the hammer on the white portion of the bottom part of the claw to crack it in the same way. Some people like to place the blade edge of their knife against the shell and hammer that instead, which can make a cleaner break.

However you do it, enjoy!

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