Enjoying steamed crabs with friends has been a social tradition for those fortunate enough to live in the Maryland – Pennsylvania area for many years. Many methods for removing the delicate sweet meat from a crab have been perfected – and each person believes his/her method is the best approach. In addition, some people like to get every morsel of meat and “mustard” from a crab; some prefer to skip removing the meat from all available (but hard to reach) nicks and crannies of the crustacean.
This article will give you a detailed approach for eating steamed crabs like a native Baltimorean, and suggestions for obtaining all the possible eatable items from a Blue Crab.
If eating crabs at home, you need to prepare the table and get the necessary tools. We suggest placing a plastic table cloth on the table, then either a few layers of old newspaper, or a sheet of butcher paper. (A quality Carryout Crab House will sell rolls of butcher paper and it is a good idea to pick up one for your use.) The paper absorbs most of the juice from the crabs and makes clean-up easier. (Suggestion: instead of placing the discarded shells directly on the paper, place them in bowls. When a bowl gets full, simply dump the contents into a paper bag. This makes the clean-up faster.)
A small knife is a good tool to use. You also might want a crab mallet to help you crack open the claws. Something cold to drink and you are all set.
You should follow the “house rules” if a pile of crabs are placed on a table for several people to share. In some circumstances, the unspoken rule is the crab you touch first, is the one you should pick up and eat. In other situations, it may be okay to pick up a couple of crabs, and then select the one you want, typically the heaviest one for its size.
Take off and discard the crab’s apron. Pop off the shell with your thumbs, or hold one side of the legs with one hand, and the shell in the other hand to pull off the shell. Grab the claws, one at a time, and pull them off the crab (save them to eat in just a bit). Then remove each leg. Later you can break open each leg above and below the middle joint. Squeeze, or use the small knife to remove and eat the morsel of meat. For small size crabs this may not be worth the effort, but for the larger, heavier crabs, you will be rewarded with some additional meat.
Is the crab safe to eat? Once the crab is open, if there is a nasty order, or if the meat is mushy – do not eat it. In most cases a crab with a nasty odor, or mushy meat, was dead before it was cooked. Eating such a crab can cause you unpleasant stomach problems. If you are not sure, it is best to discard the crab completely. This is why you do not open and eat the meat from the claws or legs prior to this point. If the inside of the crab is bad, you need to discard its claws and legs as well.
Do you eat the crab’s Mustard? Most crab eaters enjoy the crab’s Mustard and consider it a delicacy. This yellowish substance found in the in the middle of the inner crab, and hiding in the points of the shell is not FAT as some people believe. It is actually an organ only found in crabs and lobsters called the hepatopancreas, a component of the crustacean’s digestive system.
Some toxins from polluted waters can accumulate in this organ. For this reason and to be on the safe side, women of child-bearing age, especially those pregnant, and children less than five years old might not want to consume crab mustard.
Note: all those that supply crabs to Cravin’ Crabs only harvest crabs from non-polluted waters.
This stringy, bitter tasking, substance is actually the crab’s lungs. It is a myth that eating the “devil” will make you sick; it is just that the lungs have an unpleasant taste. Just use your fingers to pinch it, or scrape with a knife to discard.
There are several methods to expose the meat of the crab. Our approach is to use a knife to cut the left and right sections at a 45 degree angle. This will result in having one large section (the bottom) and the two small sections that were cut away. This method clearly exposes the chambers containing the meat. To extract the meat, use your fingers, or insert the blade of a small knife carefully into each chamber, keeping the blade close to one of the chambers side fins. When the blade is fully inserted, give the knife a bit of twist, remove and eat the meat. Do this for each chamber.
Do not forget about eating the claws. To open a claw you first break the lower jaw and pull it out. the meat may come out. There is a fin in the middle, but simply use your teeth to scrap the meat from the fin. In most cases the meat will remain in the claw so you have to break it open. There are two parts to a claw, and you will want to snap them apart. You can use a mallet to break into each of the two parts. However, a better approach is to place your knife on the claw, and hit it with a mallet, or the palm of your hand. All you have to do is make a small break or cut into the shell. Then give you knife a twist, and the claw’s shell will open.
That is it! It will take some practice to open and completed clean a steamed crab, but this is one type of practice that most people enjoy!
P.S. A dozen or two of steam crabs along with a dozen steamed ears of corn make a fantastic healthy carry-out dinner! Just call in your order before you leave work and it will be ready for you to pick up on your way home. Add some delicious shrimp salad and you will have meal everyone will rave about!
The above provided to you as a service by Cravin’ Crabs; they have Carryout Crab Houses in Baltimore, MD (www.CravinCrabs.com)
Please see the web sites of either store to view such articles as:
How to properly prepare Soft Crabs
Why Cravin’ Crabs provides the BEST Steamed Crabs
Should you purchase Steamed Crabs or Steam Crabs yourself?