A Crab Overview

By Ellen Ringlein

If one thinks of Maryland food delicacies, one has to talk about crabs. Callinectes sapidus is the scientific name of the blue crabs which are caught in the Chesapeake Bay and elsewhere. Usually the male crabs, the “jimmies,” are the ones that are eaten; the females, the “sooks,” are generally released back in the bay or ocean, so that more crabs can be born. From July through September, local crabs are served whole either as soft-shell crabs or as steamed crabs. Crab meat is also the main ingredient in many other dishes, including the world famous Maryland crab cakes.

Soft-shell crabs are young crabs that have just molted; that is, they have lost their hard exoskeleton and the new one hasn’t hardened yet.  They are sautéed or fried  and eaten whole on sandwiches. 

In the summer, steamed crabs are very popular. For many years our Maryland affiliate has held a fundraiser in August at which the main attraction is steamed crabs. Freshly caught crabs are steamed and seasoned with Old Bay, a local spice blend which is now available in supermarkets around the country. Eating steamed crabs is quite the production. One has to “pick” the crabs, which involves opening up the hard shell of the crab and removing the innards, known as the “mustard”  to get at the crab meat. Some locals consider the “mustard” as a delicacy as well. One uses a crab mallet to break open the claws, which also contain quite a bit of meat. As you can imagine, picking crabs is a messy affair; that’s why they are generally eaten at tables covered in paper. At fine restaurants one is even given a bib. 

The best crab cakes are prepared with almost no filler, consisting of all-lump (backfin) crab meat. They are either fried or broiled and served on a platter or sandwich. They are of course seasoned with Old Bay.

Crab Imperial is a dish made with lump crab meat baked in an Imperial Sauce, which is a mixture of mayonnaise, egg yolks, and seasonings, including, of course,  Old Bay. It is often served over fish. 

Two soups that feature crab meat are also popular in Maryland: cream of crab soup and Maryland crab soup. Cream of crab soup has a white sauce as its base. Maryland crab soup uses a spicy tomato vegetable base which is reminiscent of minestrone. Of course, both soups are seasoned with Old Bay.

The next time you visit Maryland, be sure to sample one or more of our delicious signature crab dishes.