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Blue Crabs of Chesapeake Bay, The

by Irving Beilin Chang

Fish and Seafood

Fall Volume: 1998 Issue: 5(3) page(s): 9 and 10


When I think of blue crabs, Chesapeake bay in the summer is where I want to be. Why? So that I can eat them to my heart’s content.

According to a Marine Resource Bulletin's Volume XVII(1), Winter, 1985 that I have here on my desk, the hard crab harvest for 1983-84 period was over forty-six million pounds. They were worth, at that time, about twelve million dollars. Today, I am sure they are worth many times that amount; probably from inflation, availability, increased knowledge, and certainly my and others love for these tasty creatures. On top of that value, processing and serving them in restaurants, the income they bring to the local economy is again multiplied many fold. Their value is economic and gustatory, for sure.

Crabs are harvested by catching them in pots or traps during the summer. They are dredged from river beds, some come from where they have been hibernating during the winter months. In the summer, when their supply is plentiful, they are easier to harvest and more reasonable. However, during the winter months when they are more scarce, their supply is limited and prices can climb eight times or more.

A female crab’s egg pouch contains as much as two million eggs. After the eggs hatch, the larva goes through many stages before one egg grows and becomes a baby crab. These juvenile crabs, in order to grow, molt twenty times before they are adults; only after that are they themselves ready for reproduction and for harvest. It can take up to twenty-four or more months for one crab to grow to maturity and be ready for harvesting.

Juvenile crabs spend most of their growing period in the grass beds in bays, therefore it should be of great impetus not only to preserve and protect existing beds, but also to restore ones lost to urban expansion. I continue to eat and enjoy them, and to support all means taken to keep the beds and bays in their most productive condition.

To eat crabs, for two reasons I generally recommend steaming them. The first is that the crabs do not lose their flavor or become water logged, the second, it is easy to cook them to the peak of their flavor. In this same Marine Resource Bulletin, Virginia Conway offers a recipe. My son Amos, who lives in Virginia Beach, has modified it and hopes you enjoy them as much as he does; I hope so, too! Incidentally, he recommends heavy rubber-coated cotton gloves when handling them and a twelve-inch two-deck (I call them two steamer-pan layers) when cooking them. Also if eating the crabs whole, crack or peel the crab meat and dip it in a mild or pungent sauce, drink special tea, and enjoy the meal. Incidentally, the Chinese believe that crabs are 'cold' and should be neutralized by drinking Ginger Tea after a crab meal. Some folk like the tea with the meal. In my family, this tea is used whenever crabs are served, no matter how they are used. Below are some crab recipes for your enjoyment.
Steamed Crabs
Ingredients:
8 Chesapeake Bay crabs
1 can Old Bay Seasoning (made by McCormick & Co.)
1 can beer
6 to 8 ounces fresh ginger
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3 cloves fresh garlic, optional
2 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
Preparation:
1. Use those rubber-coated cotton gloves to snap off the claws of the crabs, be careful that they do not bite you; the gloves are great protection.
2. Pull the top shell (the back) of the crab off. Discard this and the gills under it. Wash the claws and the crabs to remove all sand and extraneous matter.
3. Place the claws on the bottom of the first deck of the steamer with the shelled crabs on top, one layer at a time. Sprinkle about a teaspoon of Old Bay Seasoning over each crab. Use half of the crabs for the first layer. Repeat the process on the second steamer rack. Next, place enough water into the pot and bring it to a boil; then add a can of beer to the boiling water. Place each tray of crabs over the pot of boiling water, cover and steam. As soon as the crabs turn red from the steaming, steam them for fourteen more minutes. Discard the boiling water, allow the crabs to cool, then serve. They can be served hot, warm, or cold, and with a mild or pungent dipping sauce; which follows, or used in other dishes such as in Crab Meat Egg Foo Yung, below.
Dipping Sauces:
1. A simple version is to: Peel and mince two to three tablespoons of fresh ginger. Put this in a small bowl and pour the balsamic vinegar over it.
2. A more savory and pungent version is to: Peel and mince three tablespoons of fresh ginger and three cloves of peeled fresh garlic. Cover these with balsamic vinegar and one or two teaspoons of light soy sauce.
Crab Meat Egg FuYung
Ingredients:
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup or 8 ounces of crab (or lobster) meat
6 water chestnuts, preferred fresh, peeled, and shredded
½ cup shredded bamboo shoots
6 Chinese dried mushrooms
3 slices ginger, chopped
2 scallions, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
Preparation:
1. Break the crab (or lobster) meat into small pieces. Wash mushrooms and soak them in warm water for fifteen minutes or until soft; then drain and shred them.
2. Stir-fry the mushrooms in one Tablespoon of oil for one minute.
3. Beat the eggs and mix in crab (or lobster) meat, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, ginger, scallions and salt.
4. Heat the remainder of the oil in a non-stick frying pan. Lower heat, and add the crab meat and egg mixture to the pan. Fry both sides until golden brown, then serve.
Ginger Tea
Ingredients and their preparation:
1. Mince half to one teaspoon fresh ginger for each cup of tea.
2. Add brown sugar, to taste.
3. Steep in boiling water and serve when the flavor is full.

                                                                                                                                                       
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