The crab native to Maryland is the Blue, or Blue Channel Crab. It is so named for its blue color shell, which turns red when cooked. These crabs are sold live, steamed in the shell, or cooked meat as either fresh or pasteurized. This crab can be found all along the east coast, including Virginia, the Carolinas, even Florida.
Fresh crabmeat, generally sold by the pound, I picked from freshly steamed female crabs. There are several grades, the most popular being Special, Backfin and Jumbo Lump. Special is a mixture of smaller pieces of backfin meat and usually has pieces of shell, which need to be cleaned out before eating. Backfin has larger meat from the body of the crab and has less shell. Jumbo Lump is the finest grade and contains large lumps of meat, and very little cartilage or shell.
Pasteurized crabmeat is a method of subjecting fresh meat to a special heat process and sealing it in air free cans to prevent spoilage. As long as the can remains sealed, the pasteurized crabmeat will keep in the fresh state 6-12 months if kept refrigerated at 33-35 degrees F.
All crab meat, whether fresh or pasteurized, should be used within 3 days of opening the container.
How To Open Maryland Steamed Crabs
|1. Snap off the two large claws at the body. Crack the claw shell with knife handle or mallet. Pull meat out from large cavity, or dig out with knife.||2. Remove the smaller walking legs on each side. Bits of meat
may be found at the joint ends.
|3. With thumb or knife point, remove the apron by snapping off at joint.|
|4. Insert thumbs in exposed opening and pry the top shell off. Discard empty shell.||5. Body of crab is now exposed. Remove the face area (A) with knife. Scrape off the gills (B) (Grayish white fingers) on either side of body and discard. Scrape off fat or “crab butter” (C) (Yellowish mustard like viscera) in center. It is optional to eat the fat, but gills should never be eaten.||6. Break (or cut) the remaining body completely in half. Then break (or cut) each half again exposing the chambers containing solid white crabmeat.|
Separating crabs into various sizes is known as “grading”. Over the years, individual markets have graded crabs differently, for marketing reasons. There is no industry standard for a “large” or “medium” crab. We have always tried to remain consistent and will tell you exactly what you are getting.
Live and steamed crabs average in size from 5″ x 7″, and are graded as follows, in our Annapolis Seafood Markets:
- Females: 5″ and up
- Medium Males (#2’s): 5″ – 5 3/4″
- Large Males (#1’s): 5 3/4″ – 6 1/2″
- Jumbo Males: 6 1/2″ and up
When comparing prices between crab sellers, always be sure to ask their size grading.
The flavor and quality of crab meat can sometimes be determined by the season in which it is harvested.
SPRING: During this time of year, the crabs come out of hibernation as the water temperature rises. The first crabs of the season are fair in quality because they tend to be sandy inside from their long winter slumber. This sand is purged out within a few weeks of swimming.
SUMMER: this is the most popular season for crabs, as they are most plentiful. However, the quality can be inconsistent due to the shedding or molting that occurs throughout the summer. Most shedding occurs around the full moons, but at least a few times during the season. Immediately after the shedding we have soft shell crabs – a true delicacy. After shedding the crab becomes white with a medium hard shell and a little meat inside. Just prior to the shed they are very hard, dark and full of meat.
FALL: This is prime time for crabs. As the water begins to cool, the crabs stop shedding and begin to fill up, so as to build fat for a long winter’s rest. The “rusty” crabs (hard, dark and usually dirty or black looking) are full of meat and hard as a rock. These are the best tasting crabs of the year.
WINTER: Very few live crabs are available during this season, as most have moved into deeper water and buried in the sand and mud until spring. Most cooked meat available during the winter months is pasteurized, and come from the southern states.
HOLIDAYS: While this is the most popular time to purchase crabs for feasts, and parties, tends to be the most unpredictable in quality. Demand always overpowers the supply, thus forcing the industry to purchase a higher quantity, sometimes sacrificing quality. Many times, additional crabs must be purchased from out-of-state suppliers.