For those of you who grew up near an ocean, you will probably laugh at this post but, having grown up in the Midwestern US, I had absolutely no exposure to fresh crab unless it was flown in to our neighborhood Red Lobster restaurant.
My first experience with a crab was when my family went on vacation to Williamsburg, Virginia when I was ten. It was May and this was the first time I was seeing the Atlantic ocean. Of course I had to swim in it regardless how cold the water was. My Grandma took me down to the beach with her fur coat on over her swimsuit! (You’ve got to love grandmas!) I left my flip-flops in the sand and went in. It wasn’t long before I was running back out with lips as blue as the belt on my red, white and blue two-piece but with a big smile on my face!
Upon returning to my sandals, there was a crab pincer (only) on one of the straps. I never found the rest of the crab and to this day, I still have that pincer in a box of childhood memorabilia.
I have heard people talk about going crabbing when they were kids but this was something I never had opportunity to do. You can catch a lot of things in the Ohio River but crab isn’t one of them. And since family vacation always occurred in May, June or July (months without Rs in their spelling), we were never at a beach during crab season.
It was only once I moved to California that I even learned the trick about the R’s to know when it is crab season. [If you aren’t in the know, any month that has a R in it (in English) is a good month for fresh crab.]
I have seen fresh local crab in the grocery but have always been a bit apprehensive to pick one up because I didn’t know what to do with it once I brought it home. Well, that all changed on January 14th…the day chef posted a recipe for Red Quinoa Crab Cakes on his Nerdsteak blog. The picture looked great and the recipe looked easy. The day had come to buy my first crab and set about figuring what to do with it!
I headed off to the Whole Foods and bee-lined to the seafood counter. There were dozens of lovely Blue Dungeness crabs on display and they were on sale. Being locally caught and in season, the timing of my sudden bout of crustacean confidence was perfect. The fish monger selected one he thought would yield the desired amount of crab meat for the recipe and I was soon on my way home for the next phase in my adventure.
I unwrapped my purchase and sat it on the butcher block. Now what?! I figured I could crack open the legs with a nutcracker (handed down from Grandma, it was only appropriate) and pick out the meat with a bamboo skewer. That got me through the eight legs with relative ease, but what to do with the body?
As you can probably tell from the photo, my first idea was to punch a hole in the shell and pull out the meat. Well, I punched the hole but the greenish ooze that came out sure wasn’t crab meat. Time for a life line out to the internet.
It didn’t take long to find write-ups and videos to show me what I should have done and identifying the greenish ooze as ‘mustard’ – the contents of the crabs intestines…considered a delicacy to some and a toxin by others. That would wait for another day. Now armed with the insight on how to finish extracting the meat from my purchase, I made quick work of what was left.
With a bowl of fresh Blue Dungeness at the ready, I pulled together the rest of the mis en place and assembled the crab cakes. A quick fry on the griddle and dinner was served.
OMG were they good! And they were quick and easy. The longest part was the time I spent extracting the crab meat and, now that I know what I am doing, I am certain I could trim some time off from my next attempt. I believe Chefman has released my inner kracken…or is it crackin’! 😉