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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Chincoteague: Not Just Misty, Blue Crabs Too

My family has had houses on Chincoteague Island for as long as I can remember.  We started out years and years ago with a skanky inland house that was too small to accomodate all the people who visit when you have a "beach" house.  In fact, I always slept on the front screened-in porch because there was no room in the inn.  It was nice on the porch and very quiet.

Eventually, my rich-by-marriage brother bought an empty lot on the bay side and built a fancy house with a  wrap-around screened-in veranda. (Screened-in is key in Chincoteague because of man-killing mosquitos). Off the back portion of the porch and five feet from the bay was an oyster bed.  Right there. Ripe for the picking.  At any given time  on any given whim, you could step out back and pluck fresh Chincoteague oysters...for dinner or for a snack. We actually ate them off a brick one time because we couldn't dislodge them from the brick and they were too gorgeous not to eat.  Big, stern and craggy on the outside, yet sweet, plump and briney-lush  inside.  Saltines, a squeeze of lemon, and cocktail sauce was all we needed.

As wonderful as the oysters were, the dining stars on Chincoteage were the Blue Crabs.  I was reminded of this last night when I was watching an Anthony Bourdain episode featuring the Hudson Valley River and their Blue Crabs. It was an odd episode...good, but odd. I watched the blue crab segment without much thought. Rachel and I usually twitter back and forth about Anthony Bourdain when we are watching or reminiscing about episodes, and so it was when she responded with, "Blue Crabs=Devine!".  I loved that!  I loved that someone else not only got it, but really got it.

It made me think about all the blue crabs I have eaten on the Eastern Shore of Maryland & Virginia. in restaurants, on picnics, or better yet, at home.  Nothing fancy... My family would buy our chicken necks by the pounds, tie our strings around their little chicken necks, drop them into the water, slowly pull the string back to shore, and walk them to their ultimate fantastic demise.  Very delicate work, crabbing.  Once in sight, netted!  Into the basket, string thrown back into the water, and repeat.  It was great fun for a kid.  Pre-playing with your food.

We ate them very simply. Steamed, with newspaper on the table, drawn butter and lemons, shell-crackers and wooden mallots strewn about.  We would have several dozen freshly caught crab dumped right from the pot onto the table.  People ate them differently.  My father would meticulously pick and clean several crabs, set the meat aside and eat them with a fork dipped in butter. (very military). I would just simply tear into them, peeling off the apron for easy access, removing the lungs, and burying my face into the sweet Old-Bay seasoned delicate inside.  The body was always eaten first followed by leg sucking for tiny treats, and ending with the claw meat....the prize!

Maryland Blue Crabs. Steamed. Messy. Sweet. Delicate. Delicious.


Rachel, thanks for reminding me.

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