Hosting a Crab Feast

The blue crab is the iconic shellfish of the Chesapeake Bay. Unfortunately, unless you grew up on the Eastern Shore or in the Gulf Coast, it is unlikely that you have ever sat down at a table covered in newsprint and worked your way through a bushel of the freshly steamed beauties. Blue crabs are highly prized for their jumbo lump meat but also possess a lot of claw meat that experienced crab pickers have no trouble getting to. As summer closes in, here is a quick guide to hosting a crab feast of your very own:

Putting your all into your crab feast preparations will ensure the event’s success. The first thing to do is get a large table that can fit everyone. Traditionally, crab feast are held at long banquet tables large enough to fit an entire family. Use either brown butcher paper or newsprint to cover the tables, thus protecting them and making cleanup a breeze.

You will also need a couple of mallets, knives, dishes for apple cider vinegar and plenty of paper towels.

Getting your crabs
Many coastal areas will have local seafood markets that sell fresh blue crab. Those that live farther inland can usually find a crab purveyor at Asian markets. Be selective when looking through a seller’s stock. Normally it is considered bad form to cook and eat females, so avoid buying those. You can tell the difference by the shape of the crab’s breastplate: If it looks like the Washington Monument it is male but if it looks like the Capitol Dome then it is female.

Crabs are usually sold by the dozen or bushel. A full bushel is equivalent to eight gallons, which usually amounts to between 7 or 8 dozen crabs. If this seems like too much, many places also offer a half bushel option.

Cooking the crabs
The traditional way of cooking crabs is by steaming them in ample amounts of Old Bay. This special seasoning enjoys an iconic status among those who grew up along the Chesapeake Bay. Place your crabs on a steaming rack in a pot with equal amounts of water and vinegar. Coat them with generous amounts of Old Bay and then steam for about 20 to 30 minutes. The results are messy but undeniably delicious.

Dump out your freshly steamed crabs on the tables and gather around for an afternoon of fun and family, picking crabs and enjoying each other’s company.

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