The first time I went crabbing, I remember feeling underwhelmed. Where was the excitement, the blood rush, the fight-to-the-death with my quarry? Not where I was, that was for sure. I just tied a piece of raw chicken to the end of a nylon string, dropped it into the water, wiggled it a bit to attract attention and waited for a hungry crab to wander by and take hold. Sometimes the crab would sneak off with the chicken, leaving me to re-bait my string and wait. Sometimes he ended up in my plastic bucket. That was as lively as it got.
Years later I would come to think of line crabbing as far more thrilling than another method of capture, the crab trap. On a recent trip to North Carolina I experienced trapping in action. After baiting his traps with fish scraps, our friend Frank tossed the red, wire containers off his dock and left them to bob about in the water overnight. He didn’t add bait or jiggle lines. With traps there was only the wait. Although even less exhilarating, it proved far more productive than the old, a-single-crab-at-a-time line technique. One trap nabbed dozens of blue crabs.
If you end up with several dozen live crabs on your hands, you might want to do what Frank and his wife Jane did and throw a crab boil. Granted, unless you’re in a warm climate, you may not get a chance to do this until next spring or summer. Nonetheless …
Serves 4 to 6
4 gallons water
1/4 cup paprika
1/4 cup onion powder
2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon salt
Juice of 2 lemons
4 dozen live blue crabs, placed on ice in the refrigerator until ready to cook
Pour the water, spices and lemon juice into a large stockpot and bring the ingredients to a boil. Allow the liquid to boil for 10 minutes before adding the crabs to the pot. Cover and cook for 5 to 8 minutes. Remove the crabs from the pot, spread them onto a platter or a table lined with paper and dig in.
To eat whole, fresh crabs, twist off the claws and set them aside. Using a paring or crab knife or your fingers, pull off the triangle-shaped apron, gills, and intestines on the bottom of the crab. Throw these away. Holding the top shell at the front, pull it off and discard. With your hands tear the crab in half and then twist off the legs. Crab broken down, you’re ready to start eating.
Take the tip of a paring or crab knife and pick the meat off of the body. Do the same with the legs and claws. To reach the claw meat, you may need to strike the claws with a mallet. This will crack open the shell and expose a solid strip of meat. If the legs are small, you can just squeeze or suck the meat from them.