Tuesday, November 10, 2009

When Crabs Cry

I remember my mom once told me a story about my Aunti Michele and crying crabs. As the story goes, Aunti Mich (as we like to call her) was in the mood for crab and rather than buy it pre-cooked and cracked, she decided to go old school and do it from scratch. That's right, buy LIVE crabs and cook'em! As my mom regaled the story taking me through every nuanced detail of procuring said crab, she suddenly stopped. Her face contorted and with weepy eyes said, "Then she threw them into the boiling water! And you know what she said, Jamie? Aunti Mich said they screamed and cried and tried to get out!!! Isn't that awful?" "YES!!", I exclaimed. It was so terribly awful I couldn't stand it. Couldn't my Aunt have bashed them over the head first or something. I remember two things from that story: 1) My Aunt Michele was a serious bad ass and not to be messed with and 2) I would never cook live crabs. NEVER.

Fast forward a decade to this past Halloween, just a few weeks ago. We decided to be mellow and have another couple over for a nice meal. Mutton burgers on the BBQ, little gem lettuces with avocado and red Roma apples, fresh sweet batard, and a pecan pie. We had never made dinner with the other couple before but they are foodies so I thought, why not? The day before our planned food fest Gray called me to say, "Charlene and Toben are really excited about tomorrow night. By the way, Charlene wants to bring something special." "That's SO sweet", I said. "Yeah, she wants to bring LIVE crabs! Isn't that awesome?", Gray replied. "Ummmmm, I'm a little uncomfortable with that idea," I blurted. I was trying to remain calm but what I wanted to say was," Hell NO, are you insane? Don't you know they scream bloody murder until their little crabby voices are drowned out by the bubbling cauldron of death?!?"

I prepped myself for Toben and Charlene's arrival and was ready for my crab confrontation. After hugs and pleasantries I mentioned my trepidation about crab cooking. Without any hesitation Charlene promised it was no big deal and that I had nothing to worry about. This did not put me at ease in the least but I was not about to fight. She had her heart set on eating crab and I could see nothing was going to stop her. Off she went to the Asian market and returned with two giant and unhappy looking crabs.

There I stood in shock and horror as she boiled up a giant pot of water and threw each in, one right after the other. The first tried to jump out, scrapped the side of the pot as he went into the steaming water. Charlene didn't even flinch. Number 2 was much more docile, almost resigned to his fate after watching his buddy struggle. I will admit I didn't hear any screams, just one very tiny yelp as each crab hit the water. On went the lid and 20 minutes later, dinner was ready.

I told Charlene I wasn't going to eat any, you know, as a silent protest for the unsuspecting crustaceans. But the smell coming off them was too much to resist. "One little bite", I thought. "Thank you, Mr. Crab", I murmured, "for letting me eat you. P.S. Sorry about this!" As it turned out, my one bite became 20. They were the best crabs I had ever tasted. So delicious, so sweet, so FRESH. As a dipping sauce, Charlene served brown rice vinegar with julienned ginger rather than drawn butter; an ideal compliment to the richness of the crab that added a great balance of tangy spice.

It was quite a culinary adventure and one I'm happy I experienced. Once, however, I think will be enough.

Steamed Crab with Vinegar and Ginger

2 large King Crabs
3 tablespoons sea salt
1/2 cup brown rice vinegar
1 inch fresh ginger, cut into thin strips

Fill a large pot a quarter of the way full with water. Add in salt and bring the water to a boil. Place each crab into the boiling water and let cook, covered, for 18-20 minutes. When the crabs are done their shells will turn reddish/pink. Take the cooked crabs out of the water and let cool. Turn the crab upside down. Insert a chopstick into the crab where the head and top shell connect and lift up. The shell will pop open like a lid.

Place the vinegar in a small bowl with the julienned ginger. Crack the legs and body of the crab to get the meat and dip in the vinegar sauce. Simple as that. Enjoy!


  1. Have to smile, had a similar experience when I was young. We went to the beach and bought a live crab to cook that night. I kept it in the bathtub for the day, complete with rocks and sea salt. At first I didn't want to eat it but it ended up just like yours, so fresh and delicious. I just tell myself it was free-range crab! Thanks for sharing your story.

  2. That's it...free range! Thanks K for sharing. Glad I'm not the only one.

  3. Steaming them is even worse. A friend suggested we try this one time, and I swear they were moving around in that pot, slowly dying, for about 20 minutes. It was horrible. At least they go *fairly* quickly when dunked in boiling water...

  4. Oh my goodness! Steaming definitely seems cruel and unusual.

  5. YUM! how sweet ... i like poach them in water with beer and salt ...

  6. what about starting them in cold water? does that affect the deliciousness? perhaps it increases the humane-ness?

  7. I don't know about starting them in cold water. I feel like that might be worse because it will take longer. Not sure though. Thanks for visiting the blog, by the way!


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