bits and pieces

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

OH THE HORROR! Boston Lager Steamed Dungeness Crabs

the mustache hides his sorrow.
Look at him.

Look at the joy in his face. Look at how happy he appears.

Behind that smile is fear, terror, and an insatiable hunger. 

I was that happy once. But that was before.


Before what has now become legend. Before what is now shrouded in guilt, and lies - secrets and shame. 

Before.. The Killing. 

Like so many stories, this one begins on an ordinary day. We had gone to work, come home and relaxed. But then, out of nowhere, the hunger began. It began almost comically, a commonplace yearning for sustenance... but this was deeper. Darker. Something was calling from the deep. Something ancient and monstrous. From the dark and stormy waters of the pacific northwest something had arisen.

It had come from the cold waters, of the rugged coast of this great country of ours. 

An ancient beast. A many legged thing, with a gaping maw, and a blinding rage. Someone, a poor fisherman perhaps, had removed this beast from its frigid, muted home beneath the waves and along the shoreline. Taken from its home, emasculated by its unfamiliar environment, the creature was full of fury and vengeance. But it waited.

Waited for us.

Luring us in with its siren song. Its call of North Eastern lagers, and lemon butter. And we came. Willingly. We came to IT. We didn't know that it would change us. That in luring us in, the creature doomed itself. That even to this very day, it sits, dismembered and cold. Waiting. In a deep freeze.



So. If you can't tell, we made crabs. And if the Lovecraftian introduction didn't jive with you - let me explain: I found this whole experience blindingly traumatic. Yes, kind of fun, but a whole lot scarier than I imagined. Yes, that's right, I was scared of the crabs. Scared of myself. Scared of what we would become and what we would do...

OK. Sorry. Once you start writing like that it's hard to stop.

One warm summer's eve, we ventured to Superstore. Besides having a Joe Fresh store, Superstore is the place to get any random, not so random but foreign to Sasky people, or ethnic foods.  It also has a great live seafood section and is apparently the only place in town you can get live crabs. Rooferboy and I had been talking about having a good old fashioned crab bake for awhile (is it even called a crab bake or am I mixing it up with clam bake? Save me someone from Maine/the Carolinas!). And one night we finally decided to go pick up our crabs. We bought FIVE which I now know is a ludicrous amount for two people, but seemed like a good idea at the time.

Our crab children.
We brought them home, the whole time they were rustling around in their grocery bag in the back seat. It is very disconcerting to see your grocery bags moving. Furthermore, talking to the crabs while they're in your backseat and yelling at them as if they were unruly children is NOT a good idea. Humanizing your food is never a good idea. Pretending they're delinquent children is a worse idea. Please note, do not talk to your crabs, and do not name them.

When we got home, we popped them in the freezer. I've heard that putting your lobsters in the freezer before you cook them is more humane, and also relaxes them and puts them to sleep. Chilling them out, so to speak. NOT SO WITH CRABS. These little fuckers did not want to go quietly into that good night. They were each in their own little individual perforated bags, so I put them on my freezer shelf and closed the door, thinking they'd have a nice little snooze off into infinity. Instead, they somehow scampered their way to the front of the freezer and OPENED THE DAMN DOOR.


They'd been in there about 20 minutes, and were clearly not 'chilling out', so we decided to get down to business. Unfortunately, around this time (we had dumped them all in the sink), I started to hear little clicking noises and whirs. THE CRABS WERE TALKING. And they sounded like dolphins.

Saying goodbye to little Frankie Valli II
I quickly became convinced that not only could crabs communicate through echolocation, they knew what was about to happen and were quickly trying to figure a way out of their desperate and pitiable situation.

Around this time, ManCandy decided I was starting to lose it and that we should probably just get this over with. Steeling ourselves, we removed their little elastic bands, and got ready to say goodbye.

We had prepped all our crab cooking goods (more on that later) and had our steaming liquid steaming away. Convinced I had to see this through to the end, I threw the poor little crab #1 into the pot and slammed the lid on and retreated. Rattle rattle rattle... scuttle scuttle scuttle. BAM! Lid comes off, crab starts climbing out.

At this point, I ran and hid in the sunporch.

Later on, cooking and cleaning done, I decided that crabs were not worth the trouble. Sure they were good, but for the amount of crabby goodness you get from one crab, the wrangling, killing, and cleaning of the crabs just wasn't worth it. Plus all the murdering made me lose my appetite so I ate maybe one, which means we still have 2 crabs dismembered and frozen in our freezer. 
The hunger. Ever present, ever more.

Delicious? Yes.

An interesting evening? Yes.

Something you should do as a former vegetarian-turned-pescatarian? Maybe not.

Worth the trouble? In my mind - no. Man Candy, however, would disagree.

The crab was delicious. If this had been an afternoon crab-bake/crab-steam with pals and a few beers, it might have been a different story. This was certainly a bonding experience, and actually would probably make a pretty funny date night. But this is not something to do on a whim, on a tired Thursday evening. Please take note and steam accordingly.

crabs! live crabs! if you've got energy and an appetite - 2 per person. If not, I was fine with one. 
a sense of adventure/willingness to clean crab guts
a good few bottles of beer. We thought it would be nice to steam the crabs in a beer familiar to crab-steaming, so we bought Sam Adams Boston Lager. As I type this I realize how stupid it is to steam crabs in a delicious imported beer. But they were tasty. 
old bay seasoning! we added 1 tbsp to each pot. It was probably 1.5 bottles of beer to 1 tbsp of old bay. 
I threw a bit of butter in eat pot since I figured it couldn't hurt (except for my looks and self-esteem)

melted butter for crab dipping. i melted a bunch of butter, added some lemon zest, a tiny bit of juice, and a dash of garlic powder. 

other things you will need:
scissors for cutting off your little crab claw elastic restraints. Do this before you cook them and make sure you don't get pinched because it really really hurts. 
a steaming get up. Some big pots come with a basket that sits right in them. This is awesome. If you do not have one, or lost it somewhere along the way like yours truly, then you will need to rig up some sort of steaming set up. You don't want the crabs sitting in the liquid but rather above it. I stuck a metal colander in a big pot, and then a little strainer in my saucier to keep the crabs above the beer. 
a sink and running water.  you can't just eat the crabs after steaming them. You'll need to clean out their crabby guts. This isn't pretty but it's easy. 
tongs! your crabs will be angry + fighty and then dead + hot. You probably don't want to hold them either way. 
crab eating tools. those little picks and crackers and what not. there's no point in doing this if you can't eat them :D

  1. You can try and pacify your crabs by sticking them in the freezer. Let me know if you have more success/less runaway attempts. 
  2. Remove crab elastics with scissors. Leave those crabs in your sink and listen to them echolocate their sorrows to each other. 
  3. Pour your beer + old bay into your pot and bring to a boil. Occasionally check and make sure the crabs haven't fled your sink. Assemble your steaming get-up/add your strainer to your pot.
  4. Then add your crabs to your pot. They will scrabble around. This is disturbing. Listening to 'crab in the bucket' by K-OS does not make it more OK. Once they stop scrabbling around, leave your pot(s). Lower the heat slightly
  5. Cook your crabs for 25 minutes or so. Check on them occasionally to make sure the beer isn't running low and your pot isnt going to boil dry. Add more beer as necessary. Drinking beer also helps numb the pain. 
  6. Once the crabs are cooked, remove from the pot and run under cold water for a couple minutes. You will notice they are covered in slime and goobers. This is crab guts. You'll want to wash this off. I have a little spray attachment on my sink and I sprayed them for a good few minutes and scrubbed them a bit with a scrub pad. Turn your oven on low at this point too.
  7. Get ready to get gross. You will need a garbage nearby. Lay a crab flat on it's tummy. Make an 'L' shape with your left hand (or right hand if you're left handed). Put it alongside the crab, just under the body but on top of the legs. With your other hand grab the shell on that same side and pull it across the body to tug it off. GROSS! Throw it away. or keep it and freeze it if you feel like making seafood stock later. 
  8. Pull out all the grey, black, and fuzzy guts. I did this under a stream of running water. Clean out all the crevasses you can get at - you want to see nothing but white crab meat. There are a bunch of good videos out there if you want to google it. The first one is hard/gross but the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and so on, are fine. 
  9. A stark and somber feast. Lemon butter, fries, and your fallen
    foes. Tasty, tasty foes.
  10. I chopped my crabs in half as I went along with the cleaning and left them in the oven on low heat to keep them warm. Once you are done cleaning and your crabs are warm, get ready for the rewarding part.
  11. Eat with butter and additional old bay seasoning. You will need crab cracking/scooping tools to do this. Enjoy. Reflect. How do you feel? Was it worth it? Can you still hear those little crackling crab noises? Still feel them struggle against the lid of the pot? Will you ever be the same? Only time will tell.

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