Crab season is here: How to select, cook the best crabs

December 7, 2023 | 2017 is shaping up to be a great year for crabs (WTOP's Rachel Nania)

WASHINGTON The local crab season is heating up, and fishmonger Danny Greenbaum says it’s going to be a great year for the beautiful Bay-area blues.

“The water has been a little bit warmer so they’re going to develop more quickly; they’re going to get bigger. And theoretically, they should be cheaper than they’ve been in past years,” said Greenbaum, who works in the fish market at D.C.’s Ivy City Smokehouse.

“All of the restoration efforts that people have been putting toward the Bay have been paying off, and it’s really nice to see a tangible example of that happening,” he added.

Unlike crabs from climates farther south, Bay-area crabs have a distinct flavor, which is a direct result of the change in seasons.

“Down in Louisiana, Alabama, they really just have a consistent water temperature, and so they don’t develop, flavor-wise, as much as the Maryland ones do. They just don’t have the same kind of sweet depth of flavor that a true Maryland crab has,” Greenbaum said.

If you’re looking to kick off the summer season with a crab feast, Greenbaum has a few tips for selecting and cooking the crustaceans. For starters, when buying live crabs, look for the “feisty” ones.

“That’s a really good indicator that they’re fresh. You know, you really don’t want there to be too much time from when they’re harvested until when they hit the market and get cooked.”

Next, pay attention to the color. Greenbaum says when crabs molt, they form a new, white shell on the bottom. These white crabs contain the least amount of meat.

“You want to get a crab that looks kind of like it’s been dragging its belly along the floor of the ocean, which is actually what they’ve been doing once they’re fully developed,” he said.

Decide on what size crabs you want to eat and call your local market ahead of time to make sure they are available. Greenbaum says the larger crabs (measured from point-to-point on the crab shell) are meatier and much easier to pick. They are also more expensive than smaller crabs.

Another tip when selecting: Talk to your fishmonger about the source of the crabs. Make sure they’re from where they’re labeled. Many vendors buy their crabs directly from the boats on the Bay and are more than happy to share that information.

If your crab vendor offers to steam the crabs for you, Greenbaum says this can save you a lot of time and ensure they’re cooked properly.

“It’s less messy and we have some pretty good crab-steaming technology that gives you a little bit better and more consistent of a product,” he said.

If you do decide to steam them yourself, you’ll need a big stock pot and about an inch of water.

“You can put a little beer in there; some people put vinegar in there. Bring that up to a steam and then you put in a little basket and dump your crabs right in. Put a lid on it and it takes about 20 to 25 minutes or until they are all an even bright red color,” Greenbaum said.

Add some Old Bay or J.O. seasoning before, during or after the steaming process, depending on your preferences. Then, serve the crabs alongside drawn butter and cold beer.

“Throw a bunch of newspaper or brown paper on a table out back on the deck — it’s always good to eat them outdoors,” Greenbaum added.

Happy picking!

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