By Jack Sparacino: Jack Sparacino has a Ph.D. in psychology from The University of Chicago. He is retired and now lives with his wife, Jane and their three dogs on St. Helena Island. His hobbies include fishing, clamming, crabbing, shrimping and writing.
If I may start with a mouthful, “Callinectes sapidus” is the wonderful Latin term for our local blue crabs. It translates as savory beautiful swimmer. In fact, if you want to seem downright scholarly in your knowledge of the life and times of the Atlantic blue crab, you may want to read “Beautiful Swimmers: Watermen, Crabs and the Chesapeake Bay” by William W. Warner. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 1977, it’s that good.
Blue crabs deserve to win prizes too. They’re that good. And plentiful. And fun to catch, not to mention amazingly aggressive little creatures. Plus, best of all, they are absolutely delicious. We can take these in order.
1. Plentiful. I pulled up 20 yesterday morning. They love our local saltwater creeks and rivers and thrive in the marsh. You can spot them clinging to pilings or crab walking (this comes naturally) in the shallows. Or swimming close to the surface and, by the way, they’re pretty fast. Almost any style trap, single or multi-level, is effective in catching them, and almost any type of bait (protein based is best) will work. Fish heads, chicken necks or backs, spoiled meat– you name it, blue crabs will go for it. You can also go low tech and just tie a chicken neck to a string and keep a small net handy. They are the ultimate omnivore, COMPLETELY unfinky, as they also eat aquatic plants. Just be sure to check DNR rules regarding minimum size requirements, number of traps you can work, etc.
2. Aggressive. These are pretty pugnacious little critters. It’s like they all grew up during the Depression on the wrong side of the tracks, got beat up on the playground, and are itching for a fight with an opponent of any size. Or, think of the movie tough guy roles played by James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson. Plan to handle your crabs with long handled tongs, because they can give you a painful nip with their claws if given half a chance. A friend of ours, Laura, still bears a small scar on her pinky from when a large male crab got hold of her and wouldn’t let go. (She got even that afternoon as we shared a wonderful batch of fresh crab cakes.) And be ESPECIALLY careful with stone crabs if they are part of your catch, as they can take off a finger if mishandled.
Crabs are great eating almost any way you “fix” them. And since they’re not broken to begin with, it’s hard to go wrong! We love crab salad, cocktail crab claws and crab cakes best. Here’s a super crab cake recipe from our kitchen:
• 2 cups of carefully picked crab including claw meat
• 1 beaten egg
• 1 tbs Old Bay spice
• 1 tbs Worcestershire sauce
• 1 tbs dry or Dijon mustard
• 1/4 cup of seasoned bread crumbs
• 1/4 cup of good mayonaise
• 3-5 shakes of hot sauce
• 1/2 cup of minced onion, celery and red pepper
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, then form into firm patties. Adjust crumbs and/or mayo to achieve desired texture– not too loose. Fry in hot canola or vegetable oil, a few minutes on each side or until golden brown. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels.