For some non-Marylanders, the task of opening and eating a hardshell crab can be daunting. But for the truly obsessed, eating them is just the beginning. What if you didn’t just steam and eat the crabs yourself, but caught them from the Chesapeake Bay for a DIY crab feast? This weekend we took the boat out with my brother and his wife, an experienced crabbing team, and learned how to catch them.
First you need the equipment: a motorboat with a small draw for very shallow water, crab traps, a bucket or basket, a ruler for measuring the crabs (the shell has to be at least 5 inches across for legal harvesting in Maryland), tongs for handling them without getting pinched, and bait. Mmm, raw chicken necks: crabs love ’em.
We set out one large trap overnight and found four adult male crabs in it the next day.
The rest of the traps were small with open tops or sides, which make it easier for crabs to get in to get the bait secured to the bottom.
It’s also easier for them to get out, so you have to pick up these traps within 10 minutes or so to see what you’ve caught.
We set about 10 traps and checked them and moved them for about 2 hours to catch about 14 crabs. By then we had worked up an appetite.
We didn’t have a crab steamer or even a steamer basket at the house, but we did have a large pot with a lid. To make an ad hoc steamer, my brother-in-law filled the pot with two inches of water and fit a smaller metal lid slightly askew at the bottom so that the crabs would barely touch the water. He layered the crabs inside, sprinkling each layer with a lot of Old Bay seasoning, then steamed them for 20 minutes. People from Louisiana will tell you to boil the crabs. Don’t listen to them.
We served the crabs outside on a sturdy table covered with newspaper and set with wooden mallets, paring knives and more Old Bay.
If you don’t have a boat, crab traps, or raw chicken necks, you can still make this at home. Just head to NYC’s Chinatown for some live blue crabs: they’re sold at many seafood markets there in season (May to September).
Recipe: Blue Crabs Steamed With Old Bay
1 dozen medium hardshell blue crabs, live*
about 1/2 c. Old Bay seasoning
Fit a large pot with a steamer basket or place a smaller pot lid askew on the bottom of the pot. Fill pot with 2-3 inches of water and bring to a boil. Using tongs, carefully place a layer of crabs on the bottom of the steamer basket and sprinkle liberally with Old Bay seasoning until the crabs are caked with spices. Repeat with subsequent layers of crabs until the pot is full. Return to a boil, cover, turn down the heat to medium-low and steam for 20 minutes. (Increase the steaming time to 25 or 30 minutes for large or jumbo crabs.)
To serve, cover an outdoor picnic table with newspaper and set with wooden mallets, paring knives, paper towels and a container of Old Bay. Pile the steamed crabs in the middle and let your guests go to work.
Serves 1-2 Marylanders or 6 non-Marylanders.
* Live blue crabs can be found in many Chinatown seafood markets.
Note: Don’t know how to pick apart crabs? There’s a video for that: