Growing up and living near the Chesapeake Bay, picking and eating blue crabs has always been a summer ritual and right of passage in my world. All you really need is a picnic table, some newspaper, fresh steamed local crabs and a little patience. There is a bit of an art and science to picking crabs in order to maximize the yield of crab meat, and I’m excited to share the following step by step process with you that my grandfather taught me years ago.
If you don’t know the lingo, male crabs are called Jimmys, adolescent females are called Sallys, and a mature female is called a Sook. For this afternoon pick, Jimmys it was — I used 12 male steamed crabs. There are two distinct visual differences in males and females also: the male and female apron (on the bottom of the crab) are uniquely different, and a female has red tipped claws versus the males’ blue tipped claws.
So enough on the education on crabs — let’s get cracking!
This is a messy project, so do prepare your table with newspaper for easy clean up.
Here’s how to spot a Jimmy — this apron shape identifies it as a male crab.
First we want to remove the claws and set them aside. We’ll be cracking those later.
Next we want to remove the apron. I just use one of the main claws to help fold the apron back, breaking it away from the body.
Next we want to peel the top shell off; here you will see some white gills on each side of the body. Remove these and discard.
You can scrape the inside, then holding each side, just break the body in half. This is where you will find the meat channels, pictured below.
As you will notice, the channels are really where you get most of your good sweet crab meat.
I think it’s about time we interrupt this post for a little taste. I like to just lay one of the discarded shells beside me and swipe the meat along the top, getting some of that wonderful crab spice.
If I am saving the meat for later, I just keep a bowl close by to collect it in. Once I have all the bodies picked, I then move onto the claws.
The shell on this part of the crab is really hard, so it is best to have a mallet to crack the shell. Note I have a personalized one, but any will do.
Once the shell is cracked, you just break it in half and gently pull the meat right on out.
Once finished clean up is a snap — just fold up that newspaper around all your shells and discard.
These dozen crabs yielded a little over a pound of crabmeat that I’ve got big plans for. Check back tomorrow as I show you how to create crab cakes perfect for serving as hors d’oeuvres or a first course at your next wine dinner.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Virginia based food writer, Tim Vidra, authors the blog E.A.T. where he advocates the principles behind supporting a sustainable food system. Tim's mission is in sharing his passion for the preparation and enjoyment of food in a way that everyone from beginners to long time foodies can get involved in. His ties to food are deep rooted — he fondly recalls his Hungarian grandmother citing "If you don't kill it, pluck it or grow it, I'm not eating it" as he spent hours with her in their backyard garden. Now living in the city, Tim tries to maintain these basic principles as he tackles building his own lush urban garden. His recipes and advice have been featured across food publications and he's led series' of cooking demos and classes throughout the Richmond area. Learn more about Tim via E.A.T. and follow him on Twitter @TimVidraEats.