When you think of the Chesapeake Bay, there is a good chance blue crabs come to mind. If that’s not the case, there’s a good chance you’ve never cracked into one. Blue crabs are sweet, rich, succulent, and just about as memorable as a crustacean can get. Around here, they’re as good as gold.
I’m the fisherman in the family. My dad, on the other hand – he’s the crabber. That’s not to say we don’t reverse roles occasionally, but that’s the typical breakdown. I’m the type of guy who might casually throw out half-a-dozen crab traps while he fishes. My dad takes a similar approach. He wakes up at 4:00 a.m. to run a 1,200 foot snood-line with over one hundred baits from a tiller steer Jon boat. As I said, he’s the crabber.
Essentially, a snood-line is a trot-line with one extra component – a dropper. Here’s how it works. A long stretch of line is anchored at each end. The line should be taught, but not banjo-string tight, more like a down-tuned bass guitar. Along the line every six feet or so, there is a one foot dropper line which is attached to a bait. Dad and I are partial to razor clams in mesh bags, but folks commonly use chicken necks and brined American eel too. After the line has been set, the crabber idles to an end, then picks up the line and places it into a ‘U’ shaped arm which extends from the boat’s stern and sits above the water’s surface. As the boat idles along, the baits rise to surface, up and over the arm.
Here’s where temperament comes into play – blue crabs are tenacious, determined, and typically not willing to forfeit an easy meal. As the baits begin to surface, as do the crabs, clenching tightly to their razor clam loot. Once within range, the crab is dip-netted, then transferred to a bushel basket. As I mentioned earlier, the line has over one-hundred baits… so things can get pretty chaotic when the bite is hot. At the end of the run, the crabber removes the line from the arm, culls the crabs, then idles back to do it all over again. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find this downtime is the perfect opportunity to squeeze in a few casts.
Now that the bushel basket has some weight to it – what’s next? Folks along the Eastern Seaboard prepare blue crabs all sorts of ways, but here in Chesapeake Country, one method reigns supreme – steaming. Generally speaking, locals season their crabs with either Old Bay or J.O. Crab Seasoning #2. I love Old Bay as much as the next Marylander, but when it comes to crabs I’m a J.O. man through and through. J.O. Seasoning is coarser, spicier, and contains much more sodium than Old Bay. In my opinion, it’s the obvious choice when it comes to crabs.
Sitting down to a pile of crabs isn’t only about the meal, it’s just as much about the conversations, laughs, and camaraderie inspired by the gathering. It’s a labor of love, best accomplished with some pals by your side and a few adult beverages within reach. The following recipe is simple, time-tested, and known to impress even the proudest of Marylanders. And trust me, everyone from this state thinks they’re the authority on crabs. Here’s looking at you.
Until next time, enjoy and good luck out there!
Steamed Blue Crabs:
- 2-dozen Jimmies (male blue crabs), alive
- 1 cup distilled white vinegar
- 1 lager beer, doesn’t have to be anything fancy
- 4 cups water
- 1.5 cups J.O. Crab Seasoning #2
- Melted butter, for dipping (optional)
- Extra J.O. Crab Seasoning #2, for dipping (optional)
1.) Place a footed steamer basket inside a steamer pot. If you don’t have a footed basket, use a false bottom to keep a standard steamer basket a few inches off the bottom. Place the pot onto a propane burner or stovetop.
2.) Pour the vinegar, beer, and water into the pot.
3.) Using tongs, place six crabs into the pot at a time. Evenly season with 0.25 cup J.O. Crab Seasoning #2. Repeat until all the crabs are in the pot and seasoned. You should have 0.5 cup of seasoning leftover at the end. Place a lid on the pot.
4.) Apply high heat. Once the crabs start to steam, cook for 20 minutes.
5.) Turn off the heat, then transfer the crabs to a covered table. Sprinkle the remaining J.O. Crab Seasoning #2 evenly over the cooked crabs.
6.) Get to pickin’. There’s no one way to pick a crab. It’s a skill that often gets passed down from generation to generation, with slight variation. But if you haven’t a clue, check out the article “How to Pick a Crab Like You’re From Maryland” by Spoon University or the video “How to – Pick a Crab” by Jay Flemming.
7.) If you’re a dipper, serve with melted butter and extra J.O. Crab Seasoning #2. Pair with your favorite lager, pilsner, gose, wheat ale, IPA, or summer cocktail. Enjoy!
Article by Flylords Food Editor Kirk Marks, an angler, photographer, and culinary aficionado based in Kent Island, Maryland. Give him a follow at @kirkymarks.