Beer-Steamed Blue Crabs

Maryland Blue Crabs

No matter the measure of success a person may have, there will inevitably be someone else that may try to negate or trivialize that success. Anything from winning a spelling bee (“Dude, you got lucky. Anyone can spell ‘Borborygmus‘”) to cooking a decent plate of adobo (“Your adobo is OK, but my Lola’s is much better”), someone will almost surely exhibit some sort of crab mentality to let you know just how mediocre they think you really are.

We all know the metaphor. The ol’ Crabs in the Pot story where one crab tries to escape from the pot, only to be pulled back down into the pile by another crab. I imagine that as the one crab is about to claw his way out, all the other hater-crabs below are talking behind his back (“I worked way harder than he did to escape this wretched pot, so there’s no way I’m letting him outta here without a nip at his leg!) and even telling lies and spreading rumors (“Hey, I heard that crab up there has got crabs! Gross!). The secret life of crabs. Who knew?

Anyways, the best way to counter such crab mentality is to stay above the fray and ignore the high school antics, gossip, and smack-talk of crabby people, and instead indulge in the sweet meat, rich “mustard”, and delectable roe of the crabby crustaceans that dwell under water.

So when I recently spotted a bin of live Maryland Blue Crabs at my friendly neighborhood Filipino market, I knew I had to steam a pot of the tasty critters to offset the crabbiness going on in my own life these days.

Blue Crabs

You’re so crabby,
you probably think this post is about you.

The crabs I came across were set in front of the fish counter at my Filipino market so that the customer can choose his own crabs rather than the fish monger choosing the crabs. The live blue crabs were piled into a large plastic bin, and a set of wet newspaper (Asian Journal, I believe) were placed on top of the undulating pile. Next to the crab bin were a stack of brown paper bags and a pair of tongs that I thought were an index finger-length too short. All that was missing was a sign that read “Live Crabs, short tongs, pick at your own risk.”

Despite the too-short tongs, I snapped open a paper bag, flipped open the lid of wet newspaper, and began corralling some damn feisty crabs. Besides keeping all of your fingers, there really isn’t much to picking live crabs. The way I choose is I gently tap on the top of the crab with my tongs to see if the crab is alive or not (never cook dead crabs). Then I choose the meanest motherfuckers in the barrel. You’ll know them by the hissing (I swear I heard them hissing), clicking, and knocking sounds they emit and their extra-snippety claws.

You can also identify the sex of Maryland Blue Crabs by their locally apropriate Washington D.C. markings–funny but true. Male blue crabs have a Washington Monument-shaped “apron” on its underside (think phallic), and female blue crabs have an “apron” shaped like the U.S. Capitol Building (think round). Female crabs are especially prized by us Filipinos as we love to suck the eggs from the crab bodies.

I wasn’t paying much attention to the sex of the crabs I was choosing, as I was more concerned with having my finger crab-clawed. And during my frenzy of knocking on crabs, plucking them up with my tongs, and depositing them into my bag, I hear the fish monger laughing from behind the fish counter. You remember my fishmonger don’t you? He laughs at me still for no reason at all. I have a feeling my fishmonger and his cohorts behind the counter must wager on which idiot customers get pinched by a crab.

Luckily for me, I was able to gather a dozen blue crabs into my bag with nary a digit missing from my hands. Good times.

Beer-Steamed Crabs

See the Capitol Building? Lady crabs.

To prepare blue crabs, I first dump them into a large collander in my sink and run some cold water over them to rinse. Then I steam them in a simple solution of beer, kalamansi juice, lemongrass, and cilantro. I take the biggest pot I have (a 7qt dutch oven) and place an entire bunch of cilantro across the bottom of the pot to form a bed. Then I criss-cross some lemongrass along the bottom to form a lattice pattern. The cilantro and lemongrass serve two purposes: aroma, and to elevate and keep the crabs out of the steaming liquid. If you’ve got a steaming rack, that would work too.

Then I pour in a couple cans of beer (cheap stuff) and some kalamansi juice, bring that to a boil, and then dump in the live crabs. Snap on the lid and in 10-15 minutes I’ve got some beer-steamed crabs that I like to serve family-style on a newspaper-topped table with some toyamansi (soy and kalamansi juice) and chopped chillies as a dipping sauce.

Beer-Steamed Blue Crabs

Get crackin’!

Although eating crabs can be tedious, its worth all the work to get at the sweet crab meat within, as well as the “mustard” and eggs. Despite common belief, the yellow “mustard” within a crab is not crab fat. It’s actually a liver-like organ called the “hepatopancreas”. According to my handy-dandy copy of On Food and Cooking, the hepatopancreas “is the source of enzymes that flow into the digestive tube and break down ingested foods; it’s also the organ in which fatty materials are absorbed and stored to provide energy during molting. It’s thus one of the richest, most flavorful parts of the body.”

Mmmm. Hepatopancreas.

Beer-Steamed Blue Crabs

Yellow “mustard”, orange eggs.

I was going to try and explain how to open a crab and get at all the fixin’s, but I found the video tutorial below via this post from Abby at Pleasure Palate. The video is a hillarious and informative look at how we Pinoys enjoy our crabs:

And despite what Mr. Bustos says in the video, I make sure to also squeeze the meat out of the crab legs in addition to everything else. More bang for the buck, I say!

Beer-Steamed Blue Crabs

Beer + Crab = Filipino Gout Bomb

Beer-Steamed Blue Crabs

Serves 2-4

1 bunch cilantro
3 stalks lemongrass
2-3 12oz. cans of beer
1/2 cup kalamansi juice
1 dozen live blue crabs, rinsed

Spread the cilantro across the bottom of a pot or dutch oven large enough to hold all of the crabs. Cut the lemongrass stalks in half, then pound the bottom white portion of each stalk with a mallet, or the back of a knife. Place the lemongrass in the bottom of the pot in a criss-cross pattern.

Pour the beer and kalamansi juice into the pot. Place the pot over high heat, and bring the liquid to a boil. Once the liquid boils, add the live crabs to the pot and cover with lid. Steam until the shells of the crabs turn bright red-orange, about 10-15 minutes.

Remove the crabs from the pot using tongs. Serve immediately.

  • MrsLavendula June 21, 2011, 6:31 am

    i just had crabs for dinner! delicious!

  • joey June 21, 2011, 8:09 am

    Ah! Love this sort of meal…nothing like hunkering down with some crabs and eating with your hands :)
    I read somewhere that crabs actually don’t have what we know as “crab mentality” — that in studies it was discovered that crabs actually make themselves into a “ladder” by the side of the pot or whatever is holding them so their fellows can get out :) So what we know as crab mentality is actually just human mentality!

  • Reez June 21, 2011, 8:15 am

    I am amazed at how you managed to make me reflect, laugh, learn, and drool all in one post!

  • Sheridan June 21, 2011, 9:14 am

    I love the idea of adding the beer and kalamansi for steaming. I don’t stray far from the Old Bay (I’m a DCist afterall), but this is a welcome change. Can’t wait to try it for the 4th!

  • Kelly June 23, 2011, 12:09 pm

    Glad you like crab. But being from Maryland I appreciate people who don’t eat the female crabs. The population is just starting to make a come back. We steam them in old bay here, but your take is interesting as well. Might have to give it a go. Thanks,

  • BurntLumpia June 23, 2011, 2:14 pm

    Crabs are always delicious, MrsLavendula. Thanks.
    Sounds like crabs got the bad rap, joey! We humans are so petty;)
    Thanks Reez, glad you enjoyed the post.
    Do give it a try sheridan, it’s simple and tasty.
    Hi Kelly. Thanks very much for the input, I wonder how or why my market got female crabs if they are off limits to eat. I never thought of that, but I’ll definitely be more conscious of choosing only male crabs.

  • Joy June 24, 2011, 7:17 pm

    That looks so so good. I never could eat crab right where I don’t waste any.

  • cranzz July 7, 2011, 7:10 am

    when i honk for a crab, i go to grand sierra resort for the fleshy claws with butter and calamansi. oh lala

  • neckromancer July 16, 2011, 4:07 am

    There are male crabs and there are female crabs. Here in the Philippines one can hear men who say “mas masarap ang bakla–ng alimango.” They appear underside as the Capitol with a more pronounced spire. Ladyboys, perhaps.

  • francisfoodie October 16, 2011, 3:56 pm

    I’m reading more and more of your blog and I admire your writing a lot. Your portrayal of crabs in a human context and the way you tie it back to food is brilliant. Great writing. Great post.

  • Stock Pots August 9, 2012, 11:08 am

    You are a very creative writer. Your short story is too funny & quite entertaining…you have a great recipe…I love the fresh aroma of cilantro & I grow lemon grass for some of our Thai dishes. The preparation seems simple enough. Coming from a seafood area, I love crabs & I know how to eat them.

  • Spa Breckenridge September 15, 2012, 3:29 am

    I don’t love the Crabs. Because it has been hard to eat it for me. I never it.

  • robert davis October 2, 2012, 2:51 pm

    my mother (from katipunan, near dipolog city in zomboanga del norte, mindanao) always ate female blue crabs when i was a child. i could not seem to develop a taste for them until, in baltimore in my late teens, i had large male blues from the chesapeake bay, steamed with old bay seasoning. i have been an addict for nearly thirty years now, and i eat them slowly and thoroughly, extracting the meat from each segment of the legs till there is not even a thimblefull of meat left after half a dozen crabs. i won’t bother with crabs that are under six inches across, so mine is an expensive habit.
    the only caveat i would make everyone aware of, regarding eating female blues, is that in heavily harvested and/or ecologically delicate waters such as the chesapeake bay, the harvesting of females has a tremendous impact on the crabs’ ability to replenish their numbers. harvesting of males, on the other hand, does not represent a significant detriment to the reproductive cycle. it is unfortunate, because so many like the sweeter flavor of the female crabs, especially among the asian and pacific islander community.
    i think that i will try some steamed blue crab dipped in sinamak (spicy filipino vinegar) next time.
    thanks for the hilarious video!


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