Thursday, June 10, 2010

Some advice to the would be Blue Crab steamer

Sam Sifton's latest "The Cheat" column discusses steaming some blue crabs (as well as some uses for the crustacean) as a nice thing to do this summer... something to which I can agree fully... but while it is nicely written (as always), and the recipe seems fine enough in most respects... I have visions of Manhattanites standing on chairs screaming as irate crabs chase their pets around the apartment. Now, I'm no expert on steaming crabs... I left Maryland long before I had any desire to be involved in the kitchen, and even now, when I go to the Eastern shore to visit my Dad, he's most definitely in charge of the steamer pot... but I have at least seen a lot of crab steaming in my day, and heard enough apocryphal stories over the years, that it seems to me there was some important advice left out. It's advice that's similar for steaming lobsters... and maybe nobody without that kind of experience would try to steam crabs on their own the first time... but just in case:
  • You only want to cook live crabs.
  • If you try to put a live room temperature crab in a pot full of boiling hot steam... now, this may surprise you... it's not going to want to go in there. Emphatically.
  • So one option is a pair of gloves and tongs and just gladiator them all in (grab them from behind so they can't pinch you). Pretty exciting stuff, but presumably not for everybody.
  • I would suggest as an alternative: chilling them down a bit in the fridge, or directly in an ice bath, for a bit. This will make them extremely lethargic.
Now, the easiest way from then on is to have a pot with a steamer insert, since you can put your anesthetized crabs into the insert, season them, and then put them whole hog into your steaming pot... without worrying about layering them and seasoning them onto a rack inside a boiling hot pot... but assuming you don't have one, I saw a recipe or two that called for putting the crabs onto said makeshift rack before bringing it up to steam. It's an alternative, though I'm not sure how well that's going to work. Seems like they're going to wake up while the pot is coming up to steam and be a little pissed... but at least they'll already be in the pot at that point (remember kids, tight fitting lid)... I'd suspect they might lose a few more claws in their "excitement" than the first option, but that's not a huge deal.

Good luck to anyone who it going to try it!