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Eating Steamed Crabs the Maryland Way

by Karen Reed
(Pasadena, MD)

I live in a town named Pasadena, Maryland. In all of Maryland I would have to say the most cherished food is steamed crabs and in the summer months here they are plentiful. Other areas have crabs, but no one prepares them the way they are prepared here.
The one ingredient you cannot leave out if you are making Maryland steamed crabs is old bay or other similar crab seasoning. It is a combination the following ingredients: ground dried bay leaves, celery salt, dry mustard, black pepper, sweet or smoked paprika, ground celery seeds, white pepper, nutmeg, ginger, red pepper, flakes, ground cloves, mace, cardamom, and allspice. It is generously added to the water while steaming the crabs and sprinkled on top after they are removed from the pot.
Eating the steamed crabs is an art that most Marylanders learn at an early age. Newspaper is spread across the table and the crabs are dumped in the middle. Everyone gets a knife and a crab mallet.
People usually have their own way of taking the crab apart and getting the meat out. My preference is to pull all of the claws and legs off of the crab first. I set aside the claws to open later for a taste of sweet claw meat. There is a flap on the underside of the body of the crab that I grab and pull off. I then pull the top shell off. All of the innards are cleaned out revealing a clean, thin shell that weaves itself in and out of the crabmeat. I take my knife and cut apart the thin shell and pull out the meat. The mallet is for the claws and I just pound on them with it to break the shell and pull out the meat.
Most of the old bay seasoning does not penetrate the meat, but you get so much of it on your fingers while pulling the crab apart that you end up seasoning the meat as you clean it out. Marylanders would sooner eat a cheeseburger than a crab without old bay seasoning.
I have never been to New Orleans and it is on my bucket list. The two main reasons I want to go there are for the food and for the music. I love Cajun and southern food and every story I hear about that part of the country includes the food they cook and eat there. Seems to me like they marry French and southern cuisine and how can you go wrong with that combo. Maybe one day I’ll pack up a dozen crabs, go to New Orleans and trade them in for some Louisiana crawfish!

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