Monday, June 14, 2010

Summertime Blues

I woke up yesterday morning and awaited the arrival of my newspaper. No one likes to wait for the Sunday paper. When it arrived at 7:40 I dug through it like a cat in a litter box. The magazine is always the first section I want for the recipe/food related article somewhere near the center but not always. I ripped open the magazine searched either side of the Obama article to find Sam Sifton had put my national dish on the menu, spread out lasciviously like a centerfold. Steamed crabs. Oh Sam - how could you do it?

I had two issues with the article I had not yet read. Firstly, I HAD to have steamed crabs for dinner - somehow. Secondly, I was afraid to read Sam’s article. Saying you like Sam Sifton presently is equal to bringing up religion or politics at a cocktail party but I DO like him and I did not want to stop liking him because of his steamed crab article and subsequent recipe.

I’m an ex-pat Marylander and more specifically 3rd generation Baltimorean. We take our crabs as seriously as a Philadelphian regards Cheesesteaks, a Chicagoan hot dogs and BBQ just about anywhere. It’s a hot topic widely disputed in the region alone.

I eyeballed Sam’s article. I got another cup of coffee, read the travel section, caught up with Bill Cunningham, scanned the front section for my friend Keith’s pictures from India, thumbed the magazine again and decided to go for it. I was impressed. Sam had done his homework. I even wondered to myself had Sam grown up in Maryland? And that article, even his recipe, which I don’t entirely agree with, only made my need for steamed crabs more pronounced.

It’s hard to find a decently sized blue crab in Atlanta, we have them but they are usually too small for the amount of effort involved in order to feed yourself., I once found what we in Maryland would call ‘mediums’ at the fish monger in the Sweet Auburn Curb Market. Another time we had them flown in from Maryland for my birthday, but they were already cooked, so there was no thrill of piping hot crabs. Usually what I do when the urge is too much to ignore is I go Your DeKalb Farmer’s Market and buy Dungeness crabs. They don’t have the briny sweet flavor of Blue crabs but they are a heck of a lot easier to pick. And who I am to complain?

Maryland Style Steamed Dungeness Crabs - Serves 2

1 beer - preferably an ale

11/2 cups water

1/2 cup vinegar, white or cider

(2) 1 1/2 - 2 lb. Dungeness crabs (alive)

1 cup J.O. or Old Bay Seasoning (I prefer J.O. myself but Old Bay is more accessible)

Notes - I buy the crabs as close as possible to the time I am going to cook them. I put them in the sink until I’m ready for them. Really they are fine there for a couple hours, do not put them in the fridge. They should be alive when you cook them. Get a large pot put in the beer, water and vinegar, bring to a boil, add more liquid if needed, put in the crabs and sprinkle with half the seasoning and steam for 20 minutes. Halfway through cooking I turned the crabs over and covered them with the remaining seasoning. Let them cool for about 3-5 minutes prior to eating them.

How to pick a crab is as hotly disputed as how to cook them. I’ll refer you to YouTube, there are several videos there. Mentioned in the videos I watched, although not stressed, is do not eat the lungs. Yes, ‘lungs’, not ‘gills’ if you want to sound like a native. The lungs are just beyond the outer shell and are feathery and triangular. Otherwise everything else in there is consumable. Even the ‘mustard’ as the guts are called. Some people consider it a delicacy, some people think it’s gross. If you don’t like it just scoop it out.

If you want to be authentic about your meal serve it with white corn, specifically Silver Queen, a tomato or cucumber salad or if you’re at the family reunion macaroni salad and deviled eggs. Beer is THE drink, an ale and again, if you’re going for authenticity, it should be a Natty Boh (PBR can substitute) or a Rolling Rock.

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