Ron is a Forensic Environmental Consultant and a Registered Environmental Manager, holding degrees in Biology, Business and Forest Technology.
My Personal Motivation
I grew up in Baltimore Maryland, home of some of the best Chesapeake Bay blue crabs. For my family, good, chunky, sweet blue crab meat crab cakes were the Cadillac of seafood on our table. We never bought premade crab cakes, or processed crab meat. There were a couple of restaurants, back in the day, where you could get something close to good homemade crab cakes but, over the years, their number decreased considerably.
Recently, my girlfriend and I went to a restaurant in Ocean City. On our travels, I often order crab meat in restaurant. More often than not, I end up disappointed and torn between the urge to just send it back and the desire not to make a scene over the lump of unspecified goo on my plate. We had a wonderful dinner the previous night on the bay, heard about some crab places, and wanted another attempt at experiencing a good crab cake again.
I fell, yet again, for the menu description “lump crab cakes”, which to anyone who ever had lump crab meat means just that – lump crab meat in the crab cakes. I opened my crab cake with a fork. Where’s the meat? I saw the fillers, but no meat. The grayish-brown-green tint didn’t help. My dinner companion had this look in her eyes again: “why do you struggle so much chasing the memory of the ideal crab cake?”. That did it. I decided to cook for two.
Here Are the Steps, From Your Seafood Market to the Table
- First, you must find a source of freshly steamed, preferably while you watch, blue crabs. For our steamed crabs, we went to Glen Burnie Seafood Market.
- Ask your seafood supplier for the best “heaviest”, just steamed, crabs. Blue Crabs are sold by the dozen, not by the pound. A responsible and ethical supplier should guide you to the right size for the money. Prices range from $ 45 per dozen to over $ 80 per dozen. Most crab cake recipes use 1 pound of crabmeat with their ingredient combinations. A dozen large heavy crabs should yield up to two pounds of meat. Your budget drives the rest.
- Remove the meat with your clean hands. Be careful to get rid of the shells and cartilage. I saved the claws for a treat the next day. The meat was used in an organic brown rice with organic bell pepper dish.
Some Biological Facts About Crabs
The months of April through November are the peak harvesting time for blue crabs in Maryland with the Fall months providing the heaviest crabs. That means, lots of dense rich meat with some fat for their journey to warmer waters and “hibernation” in the winter months. In May, they head up to the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay to mate, then towards saltier waters near the mouth of the Bay for spawning. During winter in Maryland, suppliers look southward to get live crabs from South Carolina to Louisiana. Blue Crab migration can be mysterious. Recent climate change has allowed Blue Crabs to move up the coast to Maine waters. Migration and life cycle depend on water temperature, salinity and the Moon (tides).
A comment on male crabs versus female crabs: males are typically larger, while females tend to have denser meat. Maryland crabs sometimes come with “mustard”, produced by an organ, the hepatopancreas, acting as both kidney and liver in filtering impurities. Depending on where the crab was living at the time of harvest, there might be contaminants in “mustard”. With “normal mustard”, from clean waters, some people like it included for the taste.
Here is a Gluten-free Recipe, I Found to be Excellent.
A note on salt: if the crabs are steamed in Old Bay seasoning, typical in Maryland, a considerable amount of salt will be transferred to the meat. Recipes usually call for Old Bay seasoning, butter, salt and other ingredients that might have salt in them. Consider unsalted butter or no additional salt ingredients, or start with Blue Crabs steamed without Old Bay seasoning. Here are three of the six crab cakes I broiled.