Coastal waters yield blue crabs
BY RICK GOINES
Wednesday, July 4, 2018
Did you know that blue crabs are the No. 1 commercial seafood product in North Carolina waters? The state boasts an annual 30 million-pound harvest. Much of it is found in the greater Pamlico Sound area.
Blue crabs surely welcomed colonists and early settlers to Eastern North Carolina when they first stepped ashore. It was a brave or very hungry soul that ate that first blue crab. I’ll bet they learned the hard way to stay away from those pinching claws. Plentiful along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, the blue crabs’ Latin name is Callinectes Sapidus, which means “savory, beautiful swimmer.”
My family and friends back in Maryland might have a hard time comprehending that blue crabs come from any place other than their majestic Chesapeake Bay. No doubt, the Chesapeake Bay has a well-deserved reputation for an abundance of crabs, but coastal eastern NC lays claim to house and supply quite a few of those tasty critters too.
I thoroughly enjoy eating those Maryland-style steamed and spiced blue crabs. If it’s true you are what you eat, then I am one big, fat, overweight, crabby guy. My Maryland roots are showing here because I grew up scarfing up a picnic table full of crabs. Simply put, crabs are a comfort food to me. Crab feasts with family and friends were always a special occasion and have provided a lifetime of pleasant memories.
I brought the concept of a Maryland-style crab feast south with me 40 years ago and have proudly and deliciously introduced it to many neighbors, friends and co-workers. I have worn out more than one pressure cooker steaming a ton of those tasty crustaceans over the years.
A crab feast is much like the North Carolina pig picking. It is a leisurely, casual event full of good food, drink, and conversation that could last hours. My ideal crab feast menu includes crabs, boiled shrimp, corn-on-the-cob, plenty of cold beverages of choice and a slice of cool watermelon for dessert. If you go home hungry, it’s your fault.
Blue Crabs, even though they are actually greener in color than blue, don’t stay green or blue long in my presence. A handful of Old Bay seasoning, a little quality time in my pressure cooker, and they become an edible, beautiful hue of red. Some youngsters in crab country learn to eat crabs before they can walk. Crab meat might be the first solid food my children, Candace and Rich, gummed down as toddlers many years ago.
When it comes to munching on blue crabs in Eastern North Carolina, you have several options to explore. You can catch them yourself, buy live ones at a seafood market to cook at home, purchase live or cooked crabs online, or visit a crab house restaurant. We will take a look at the whole shebang in case you got a hankering to gnaw on some of these delicious hard-shell marvels.
Catching your own crabs can be fun and easy. It’s a nice, inexpensive family activity the kids can enjoy. A long-handled net, a roll of string or twine, weight, and a hunk of bait, and an empty bushel basket are all you need. Crabs are not choosy eaters, but chicken parts seem to work best for hand liners. Those fortunate to live on or near salt or brackish water have the option of putting out their own personal trotlines, crab pots, or baskets. Lucky, fortunate folks! Good to always know local crabbing rules and regulations. Short list, but you need to know.
Your local coastal sports store/bait shop has everything you need, including advice where to dunk your baits. Throw excess and undersized crabs, less than 5-inches spike to spike, back to survive, thrive, and multiply.
Crabs can definitely be considered a healthy North Carolina sustainable seafood resource with your help and unselfish attitude. It was most interesting to me to read about crab charter boats that will take you out to fish pre-baited pots and/or a trotline. I saw one business that guaranteed sending you home with at least a bushel of crabs. Granted, there are probably much cheaper ways to get your hands on a mess of crabs, but I think harvesting them like commercial watermen do would be an interesting, educational activity with an obvious delicious outcome.
You can always buy crabs at a seafood market to bring home and cook yourself. Crabs are usually priced according to size. The largest, heavy, meaty males are most desirable and called #1 jimmy crabs. They command the big bucks in the blue crab world. A pressure cooker, Old Bay Seasoning and some vinegar is all you need. Cooking directions are simple and appear on the back of your Old Bay Seasoning can. A little messy and cumbersome sometimes, but worth the effort and trouble if you love to eat crabs.
The computer age makes it easy to order crabs online, live or pre-cooked, to be delivered to your front door. Wow! How convenient is that? Any online search engine seeking blue crabs will give you several options and direct you to appropriate websites. Most offer crabs in various sizes and amounts and a host of other seafood choices too. A little pricey, but very convenient and dependable. I have ordered crabs several times online for myself and for others as gifts and have no complaints about the product quality or service.
Want to go the restaurant route and let them do the steaming and clean up the mess? The older I get the more I like this simple solution to satisfying my personal crab craving. If I am going to eat crabs I look for a crab house that specializes in preparation and serving of blue crabs. For my money, they are too expensive and special to me to eat them in a restaurant that treats them like a sideline. A real crab house is a bit rustic, and not too fancy, usually with brown paper on the tables and handy-dandy wooden hammers and knives for your own personal form of crab dissection and surgery. Bang and pick away!
Supply and availability of crabs are directly tied in to weather conditions, so calling ahead can be a smart, prudent move and help avoid disappointment. Advance ordering can also be advantageous for you, and largely appreciated by your supplier, be it seafood market or restaurant. Summer is the perfect time to seek blue crabs in Eastern North Carolina. They are easily available and at peak size and condition to grace your table this time of year. Grab family and friends and gather around a table of crabs: crack, pick, chat and enjoy. Repeat often!
If I can specifically point you in the right direction for some crabs, (online supplier, restaurant, etc.,) ping me and I will be glad to assist tour efforts.
Rick's Soapbox: I have a soft spot for commercial crabbers. Sad to say, but unfortunately this vocation is a dying breed. These watermen work hard and have a limited seasonal opportunity to make their money. Don't confuse the price of crabs at the seafood market and on restaurant menus with crab fisherman's income. They make a mere fraction of those prices you see and do most of the heavy lifting to bring those crabs to you. I admire and respect their hard word. The internet has some interesting videos tracking the day in the life of a commercial crabber. Check it out.
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See you on the water, my friend!