Every year in April marks the beginning of blue crab season. But how to eat blue crab? Though I remember my mother cooking blue crabs on the regular, no one ever showed me how to crack a shell on my own. Finally, after all these years, my mom agreed to show me how to eat blue crab—and it was a lot easier, but messier, than I imagined.
Once the weather got warmer, I remember my mom picking us up from school, an odd rustling sound coming from the back seat. We would help her carry the groceries, but she would claim the crab bag, pockmarked with holes from the live, writhing crabs. She'd dump them in the sink while setting water to boil. Sometimes, a crab would get bold and jump, skittering across the kitchen floor. Remembering this, I ask her why she brought them home alive?
"You never cook a dead crab," she says. "If you do, the meat's no good; it's mushy."
Crab meat should be fork-tender, yet firm. A little sweet, but not tasteless. The only way to get this result is to drop the blue crab in the boiling water while they're still alive.
Also, she says, while Westerners (Americans, in particular) prefer the leaner meat of the male crab, most Asians prefer the fatty flavor found in female crabs. The way to tell the difference? Take a look for yourself:
Left: female crab; right: male crab
The flavor is even better if the female has eggs, a creamy orange-ish substance lying just beneath the shell. It's rich and fatty and flavorful, and what my parents wanted most when they bought blue crabs. But you won't know if she has any until you crack her open, which brings me to . . .
At my house, we ate it simply with white rice. You could dip the crab meat into a mix of white or cane vinegar and garlic, which gives the sweet meat the tang of acid. You might even add a little soy sauce. But if the crab meat is good, it's fine on its own.
The trick is that inside the shell is a softer shell, with crab meat nestled in the nooks. This inner shell is not edible, so the best way to pull the meat out is to use your fingers (rather than a spoon or fork) to coax out the meat and put aside the inner shell. Messy, yes, but so satisfying.
Photos by Michelle Klosinski, Groupon.