Last year, while on our annual beach vacation, a rental car pulled up to the corner outside our cottage. Three Asian men got out, with a bushel basket of live crabs, and started arguing with each other in some foreign language.
Sensing these men were from out of town, I shouted from our deck, “You folks need some help?”
The one who could speak a bit of English came forward and explained that they were Korean businessmen who had just returned from a chartered crabbing trip. He opened the bushel basket, revealing layer upon layer of beautiful gurgling Blue Crabs. He told us that they were staying in a hotel and, unless we wanted to take the crabs off their hands, they were headed to the beach to release them.
On one hand, it would have been hilarious to watch the three well-intentioned Koreans inadvertently cause utter terror and mayhem as they empty a bushel basket of vicious crabs amongst the sunbathers at the beach. On the other hand, it’s not everyday that someone walks up to your deck, where you are sitting comfortably with a drink in your hand, and offers you over $60 worth of fresh-caught seafood for free.
Needless to say, we took the crabs “off their hands” because that’s the kind of generous Americans we were. Bowing and waving, they thanked us profusely for helping them out, and we graciously accepted their mistaken gratitude.
As the rental car pulled away, we – my brother, sister-in-law, husband, mother and I – looked blankly at each other. “OK,” my brother finally said, “How the hell are we going to cook these things?”
We remembered summers past when crabs were steamed on our stove cracked at our newspaper-covered table; however, none of us could remember how we did it. “I’ve got it!” my sister-in-law yelled, holding a rusty can of Old Bay Seasoning from our spice cabinet. “Says here, fill the bottom of the pot with equal parts water and vinegar, bring to a boil, then layer the crabs in the steamer with seasoning. Cover and steam 20-30 minutes until the crabs turn red.”
Piece of cake. As we readied our ingredients, we clinked our beers in mutual admiration of our ingenuity. We knew we were not like all the other beach tourists. We owned our beach house, had a steamer pot, and cooked our own crabs. We were just like locals, swarthy and seasoned.
“Water’s boiling!” my mother yelped, and my brother nervously retrieved the basket of crabs from our deck, where the kids were poking them with sticks and watching them snap. As the rest of us huddled at a safe distance, my brother skittishly picked up the angry crabs with tongs and lowered them, one by one, into the deadly steam.
The kids looked on, confused. Like most kids these days, they loved animals and they loved food. But they did not often take part in the ruthless conversion of animal to food. “It’s not going to hurt, is it?” my youngest daughter asked. “Oh, no, they think they’re taking a nice bath,” my mother lied.
Just then, a crab leapt from the pot in a desperate fight for survival. As the escapee scrambled sideways toward us, my husband emitted a girlish squeal and knocked me out of the way to get onto a barstool. The kids wailed and dug their nails into each other, while my sixty-something mother sprang spryly onto the couch. The rest was a little foggy, but two minutes later, our kitchen broom was broken in half, two kids were crying, I had a mysterious scratch on my shoulder, and the escaped crustacean was back in the pot.
Thankfully, the neighbors did not report the commotion to the local police, and apparently, there are therapists who will be able to adequately deal with any residual trauma our children may have experienced during the incident. Despite it all, the crabs were steamed to perfection, and we enjoyed a tasty supper as the sun went down.
Tune in next week for “How to eat Blue Crabs without losing an eye.” And remember, if a strange foreigner gives you a case of crabs, consider yourself lucky.
- Vacationer’s Deadliest Catch (themeatandpotatoesoflife.com)