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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Food For Thought

I've called the Lexington Seafood Company for weeks inquiring about the arrival and availabilty of seasonal fresh Chesapeake Bay blue crabs.

Last week, Bingo.  The fresh crabs were flown in early Wednesday morning .......and were gone by noon.  Missed opportunity.  My bad.

This week, I called on Tuesday and reserved a dozen blue crabs for a Wednesday pick up.  Yesterday, I stopped by the seafood shop after work and left the store with a plain brown paper bag filled with  Chesapeake Bay blue crabs.  Score.  My car smelled of the ocean as I drove home.  When I got home, I grabbed a cooler from the garage and emptied the crab bag into it. While still entangled with seaweed, the crabs ticked, clicked, and climbed over each other as they tumbled into the cooler.  They were exactly what I expected them to be.

I hadn't expected the flood of sweet sentimentality that washed over me when I saw them.  I haven't seen living fresh Chesapeake Bay blue crabs since the summer days of my youth spent on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia. The mere sight  of them flushed me with memories of my father, family, friends, boyfriends, and girlfriends that shared Eastern Shore experiences with me. It's funny that a bucket of crabs brought back so many images of days filled with crabbing, kite-flying, swimming, eating, drinking, playing, and loving.  A dozen crabs.  A thousand  memories.

When Michael got home, we sat in the parlor drinking wine and reminscing about our joyous times together in Chincoteague on the Eastern Shore. It was sweet fun to remember and reflect. For years, we spent our summers together there.

We eventually exhausted and emptied our memory banks reflecting about our days on the Eastern Shore. It occured to me that I needed to cook the crabs.  The suckers weren't going to cook themselves.  It was dinner, after all, not a therapy session. 

I dragged my huge canning pot from the basement, dusted it off, and placed the canning basket in the bottom of the pot to create lift for the crabs to steam.  I poured 4 bottles of beer along with a bottle of apple cider vinegar into the rechristened crab pot and cranked the flame to high.  When the liquids came to a boil, I carefully placed the fresh crabs into the pot, layering them with sliced lemons, whole scallions, and tons of Old Bay Seasoning. After tossing a final bouquet of fresh scallions over the crabs, I clamped on the lid and let the steam bath rip for 20 minutes.

The boiling crab pot fogged our cold windows with  pungent vinegar, bitter beer, and Old Bay-spiced aromatic steam.  Our house smelled like a beachside Maryland crab shack.

After 20 minutes, I checked the crabs to see if they had turned  bright red. I removed the lid to let the steam escape, drained the liquids, and dumped the entire pot of cooked crabs onto a very large newspaper-lined  pewter tray.  I dropped fresh scallions over the crabs for bite and fresh lemon wedges for acidity.

With wooden mallets and crab forks on deck, we ate our catch with drawn butter, cocktail sauce, hot sauce, and a red wine vinegar-based mignonette sauce.

The crabs were outrageously fresh.  Tearing apart  steamed crabs takes heady diligence. We had it.  We gently cracked the claws with our mallets to reveal  claw meat, pulled the legs from the body to suck leg meat, and carefully peeled the aprons from the undersides, before cracking the bodies in half,  to expose body meat. 

As we ate, sweet crab meat flew through the air.  Butter was everywhere. Lips.  Hair. Cheeks. Spicy Old Bay seasoning got under our fingernails.  Licking.  Slurping.  Sucking.  They were so delightfully messy and fabulous. 

They were exactly as I remembered them as a kid.
Here's something to think about.  What types of food take you back to pleasant places in time? Times when you felt embraced and happy?  Food is a sensory connection.

Think about it...
and enjoy the journey.

Food for thought.

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