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June 1, 2008

Welcome to Crab Week


Crab Week, the week we've all been waiting for with crab mallet in hand, has arrived. I hope you're as thrilled as I am. I also hope you'll put that crab mallet down. People who know better will think you're an amateur.

When my in-laws retired, they moved to Oxford, Md., on the Eastern Shore and we visited them most summer weekends. Occasionally their watermen neighbors invited us to a crab feast. The two things I learned early on about eating steamed crabs with Eastern Shore folks at home are...


...they don't use a lot of spices to steam their crabs, and they don't use crab mallets. Their theory was that restaurants steam their crabs with a highly spiced mix (which I admit I like) because it makes the customers thirstier and they sell more beer that way. One thing is for sure, if you don't use Old Bay or something similar, you can taste the sweet meat of the crab better.

I was particularly impressed by the fact that the only tools on the table were knives. They used their hands to crack the claws, no mallets needed. Of course, they knew just the right place so the claws would break easily, and I don't. So I just bang away. But I'd like to be able to do it the way the experts do. On the other hand, you're going to have fun no matter how  you pick your crabs.

Here's some advice if you're a newbie:


 (Photo of crab/special to the Baltimore Sun/Roxanne Earley)




Posted by Elizabeth Large at 9:01 AM | | Comments (27)


As a Maryland immigrant, I use a combination of fists, fingers, knives, mallets, and whatever else is handy. Natives look at me like I'm nuts, but I get all the meat out.

Nice video, although I suspect that the first time I try to pick a crab, it isn't going to look quite like that.

So, what do you drink with crabs if you don't drink alcohol?

Better than mallets: old fashion nut cracker. Two simple rods with a spring hinge holding them together forming a V. Much better control.

Hate me now. Crabs - I just don't get it. Watching people eat crabs is like watching monkeys on crack pick bugs off of each other. Or someone peeling off sun burnt skin and eating it. Obviously it's fun for the participant, but it's torture for the spectator. It's probably the most primal thing I have seen human adults do. It's not what they are doing but the crazy look that they get and the violence and extreme focus. Crab cakes - meatloaf of the sea. Go ahead, hate me hard.

That was a good video. Its always good to see different ways to get that backfin lump out in one piece. Can't wait to get back up there to have some!

Crab cakes - meatloaf of the sea.

I like meatloaf. Also, I managed to be first to post in an official crab week thread. Go me.

Hate you OMG? No hate, but extreme pity. And it leaves more crab for the rest of us.

And think of crabcakes as pâté of the bay, rather than meatloaf of the sea.

Hey OMG, I love being in the minority along with you. I LOVE crab cakes but even the thought of picking crabs leaves me stone cold - ick. I am a Md. native but have been in Baltimore 18 years and have never picked crabs. Meatloaf of the sea.....I like that.

Okay - I have been here in Charm City since '89 and I still don't get the concept of crab mallets. The beer, I get! I have been to many so-called crab feasts but to me it's just too much work for too little food. I guess that's why there's always cole slaw (usually blah) and other items available.

Crab cakes - sorry, MDers, I just don't like them. Too many versions of something that should have one authentic. Is there such a thing? There is talk of filler, bread crumbs, eggs ... "meatloaf of the sea" is a perfect description but where is the perfect crab cake? (Oh, Lord, I know I should be checking the D@L archives. Forgive me, your majesty.)

OOH - are we going to discuss the mysteries of "Crab Delight"?

I have two quibbles with the crab lesson, aside from their lousy taste in beer. It's silly to crack a claw by hitting the knife with your hand. Sooner or later it hurts. It's the one time to use a mallet, tapping the top of the knife at the same places. Second, it's not always wise to select the largest crabs. Crabs grow in spurts through the season. Sometimes the mediums are "heavier" -- meatier -- than the jumbos, and you can afford to buy more of them. The idea is to became a regular at a good crab house and trust the waitress' recommendation.

I'm with Federal Hill Jim on using a mallet to tap the back of the knife. The reason we have opposable thumbs is so that we can use tools.

I love crab meat sometimes, but I think crab cakes are a vulgar wretched excess. I really have thought about this a lot. To me crab is a delicate ingredient, not a main course. One of the better crab dishes I had was a delicate white fish (forget which one) stuffed with melted brie and crab. Perfect subtle combination. If I were cooking with crab I would probably go with aromatic Asian spices like ginger and lemon grass. Just thinking out loud. Old Bay has a heavy celery seed taste, which I dislike. I do think Old Bay on shrimp is great though. So stone me, I'm used to it.

I really feel sorry for those of you who obviously have never had a good crab cake. Properly made, they are divine (and I am not a native). Trouble is, they're seldom made properly. I had the good fortune to eat my first crab cake long ago at the old, original, real Obrycki's. Hasn't been matched since, except at Faidley's in Lexington Market (suburbanites: there's a garage across the street) and in my kitchen.

I work in Little Italy, so I don't want to spread any more rumors, because they are zooming around like a freakin pack of flying monkeys. Who knows for sure what's going on, definitely something bad. When googled them I found this review site:

You never know how many of these user reviews were written by the owners or ex-staff, but this one sure wasn't by the owners. "Bad service, bad food. Overall, I hate my life now that I've eaten there. Only eat here if you want to be pushed to the edge of suicide."

All in all, regardess of the truthfulness, these reviews are shocking (and highly entetaining. I've never seen such anger and I've seen a lot of that in the restaurant biz. The truth is out there ....

I'm so sorry, my last post was a mistake it should have gone on a different post.

OMG (we'll forget the owl stew, for the moments) I agree with you about crab cakes: its not the best use of crab meat. I don't like the taste of fried crab meat. The crab cakes that I like are all little or no filler, mayonnaise based versions that are broiled.

Anything that calls for blue crab and onion is destroying the crab. It is too delicate a taste to have to fight onion (and its many variants.) Old Bay, in moderation does work with crab meat, but the key is moderation. Otherwise use tofu. The taste will be the same.

The first ingredient listed in Old Bay is celery seed. I use it to season fish. RtSO, I'm with you. Don't like fried crab cakes at all.
There are some interesting versions of the crab cake down here, none of which use Old Bay.

Crabs. In my insane world I believe they are a major contributor to the high cancer rate in MD. Think about it, they are the roaches of the sea and eat every sludge-bit off the bottom of the Bay.

I agree with the guy from the City Paper whose name is escaping me just now. When I make crab cakes at home, I prefer to sautee them (which I consider different than "frying") rather than broil them. Broiling them, at least in a home broiler, seems to dry them out too much.

We had steamed crabs last week while in Ocean City. We got them as takeout from The Crab Claw on Ocean Highway. They were large but did not have as much meat as I would have expected. But, boy were they sweet and well seasoned. We had half a dozen and honestly along with a fried oyster platter for my husband, we were well-fed.

We went looking for Bills Terrace Inn in Fenwick but wound up at Catch 54. There my husband ordered an appetizer portion of fried oysters. We were served a huge plate of them. Unfortunately, unlike the oysters from the Crab Claw, these were more breading than oyster. I ordered fish and chips. Again the order was large and the breading very tasty; unfortunately the talapia they used at no taste at all. The service at both restaurants was wonderful and sunset at Catch 54 was almost worth the price of dinner.

I still eat crabs using the Gordon's paper placemat method from 30 something years ago. 1. Pick off all claws except swimmers. 2. open with the ziptop cap & discard shell. 3. pull off the devil, the fat, and scoop up the mustard to slurp. 4. crack in half and using the swimmer claw as a handle crack into the good lump meat and pick out the rest. 5. Claw eating at your discretion. (number 5 is a whole category unto itself. Some enjoy claws the best and save up a bunch to eat at one time, some eat at same time as rest of crab and some don't "waste time" with 'em at all). Personally, I enjoy the lump and claw equally as long as the crabs are big and meaty and I don't have to work to darn hard to get it out!
I have to agree with the school of Old Bay and steamed only for my hard crabs.

I have to agree with those who just don't get the whole crab experience. Take something with a very delicate flavor, coat them with Old Bay and then assault them with mallets? I'll stick with crab cakes made at home so I can taste the crab.

I really need to comment on the first picture. That's a female people. Please don't eat females. Leave them alone and let them breed.

I knew females were good for something.

I grew up (on the Eastern Shore) tapping the knife with the mallet or my hand to crack open the claw. Most of my relatives used knives only. But some just smashed stuff with mallets until they got the meat out.

LIZ -- you're right. Restaurants put tons of Old Bay on their crabs and growing up we didn't use as much when we steamed up at home.

The Sandbox has taken over the majority of the Sun's homepage. Its either a very slow news day, or the powers-that-be understand the power of the Sandbox and Crab Week. (If I spoke modern jargon I guess I would say 'Go(?) someone/thing or other', but I don't. Sorry.)

Interesting to see another method for picking apart and eating a steamed crab. Too bad, tho, he isn't aware of all the sweet meat in those feelers and swimmers. Tasty. Shouldn't be missed. Also, the yellow stuff (often called mustard) is, supposedly, the crab's liver.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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