Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Bay People

It occurred to me the other day while I was crabbing off of the Maple Street Dock in my hometown on Long Island that I'm like a character straight out of an episode of Swamp People.  On Swamp People, crazies go out into the bayous of Louisiana to grab as many alligators as possible.  In my case, the catch is blue claw crabs and I'm out there to commit a "genocide in the Great South Bay," as it has once been dubbed.  I am drawn down to the dock to go crabbing every summer not only because of how deliciously sweet the crabs are, but also because fishing with a raw chicken wing tied to a line and armed only with a net is exceptionally fun.  My sister and I used to fish off of the dock for snappers with my dad when we were younger but caught little more than crabs nibbling at our bait.  Now that our strategy has changed (fish for crabs, not for fish,) the game proves tasty and rewarding.
I set out with Nick the other day and tied 4 lines of chicken to the dock.  The above is what we caught: about 10 male crabs of an acceptable size.  It is illegal to keep females and small crabs, and unfortunately most of the suckers we caught were still undersized.  (We'll be back in a few weeks for you who got away this time...) 
At home I threw the live crabs into boiling water sprinkled with Old Bay Seasoning and covered until they turned bright red about 5 minutes later.
I take my crabs chilled, and after some time in the refridge they are ready to break open.  Here's the game plan:  Rip off all of the legs and turn the crab belly up.  Remove the carapace, or the top shell of the crab, by splitting the top and bottom apart near the back of the crab.  For a visual of the ugliness that is the inside of a crab, see below.
Break the body of the crab in half and dig in towards the bottom where the sweet white meat is hiding.  Those white meat looking things on the left in the above photo are gills, so don't eat them.  Dig under them to find the buried treasure.  Then attack the claws, where some of the largest chucks of meat lie.

Picking these crabs apart is too much work for some people.  I can definitely understand the allure of a crab salad sandwich or crab cakes over whole crabs.  But for me, the work is all part of the harvest process of plucking these crabs from the water two minutes away from my home.  From personally catching the crabs, breaking them apart and scavenging for each morsel of meat there is a sense of freshness and tradition that keeps me trudging back to the dock with my net every summer.


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