Monday, June 1, 2009

Maryland tradition

I thought this weekend that I would just take the time to chill and not think about much of anything. We decided that we would get some crabs on Saturday since the weather was so nice. Nothing better than that old Maryland tradition of eating steamed crabs and cold beer on a nice day. So we spread the newspaper out, poured a couple of cold ones and dug into the pile of crabs in the center, chatting away idly.
Well you know me and the mind started to wonder. Who actually discovered the crab and first ate one. Of course they would have gotten really sick if they ate it raw first. I wouldn't want to think about that. If you really look at crabs they are ugly as sin. Who would have thought they were even edible. Crabs being scavengers will eat anything and I am surprised that this does not deter people from eating them, I try not to think about it myself.
This brought back memories of when I was a teenager working at a local crab house. Myself and two other boys were the crab steamers on the weekends. The delivery of about 50 bushel crab would come and we would stock them in the refrigerated truck by the steamer room. We had three huge steamers that were about four feet tall and 3 ft in diameter that were fueled by a propane line. Each came with 4 steamer baskets that you could layer on top of each other. Then we had the chiller. A mammoth steel vat with a flat screen on the bottom that was attached to a center rod and pulley system. First we turned the drain cocks off, then started filling the chiller with water, we had to add about 300 pounds of ice to the water then we were ready to start adding the crabs. For those of you that have never steamed crabs before they can become very lively and fast to get away while guarding themselves with their claws open and ready to chomp down on anyone that touches them. Once you experience a really bad pinch you don't want to again. The cold air in the refrigerated truck subdues them enough to get the lid off and dump them onto the steel table. This is done to check for dead crabs before they get into the chiller. However you can not take to long to sort because they become very agitated quickly. We had to be fast and accurate picking them up and whizzing them into the chiller. We have chased many escapees all the way out to the parking lot. We had a rule that if they made it to the outside steamer door they were spared the fate of the steamer pot.
Once this is done they go into the chiller which will put them into a long hypnotic state. The crabs stayed in the chiller for about 20 minutes, then we would use the pulley system to lift the crabs slowly out of the ice water. This allowed us the time to fold the legs and claws in, arrange them in the baskets, season them , and get them into the steaming pots without getting pinched. The crabs will come out in that position also which is more presentable on the tray and it keeps the claws and legs from coming off.
This was a really popular crab house and we would spend hours steaming crabs. It was a really fun job and we had a good boss to work for. The surprising thing is that I have never steamed my own crabs since then. When we were packed the boss would come down and ask us to put on some extra salt or add some hot pepper flakes to the seasoning so the patrons would drink more beer.
Eating crabs has to be the most popular Maryland tradition.

1 comment:

Lucy said...

Good for you. You relaxed. I wqould not know how to cook a crab. I think I saw in a restraunt I worked in long ago they put them live in boiling water or was that lobster?? Long ago , I was making 26 cents an hour plus tips.