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I didn’t know squat about crabs when I met my (now) husband Doug, who is a Baltimore native. The first time I ate crabs was also the first time I ever sat down to a meal with Doug’s extended family, at a newspaper-strewn picnic table on the sunny porch of a rented condo in Ocean City, Maryland. I know how to eat lobster, and I assumed crabs would be similar, but after smashing through the shells with a mallet (definitely NOT the right way to eat a hard-shell crab), my reward was almost nonexistent—meager little shreds of crabmeat, coated in bits of shell. Thank goodness there was lots of beer.
After some serious tutelage (and Doug supplementing my meals with his own expertly pulled, hunky pieces of crab), I figured it out. Now I’m completely hooked and take every opportunity to gorge myself on all things crab. In the summer, when we head down to the Maryland shore, I make a promise to myself that I will eat something crabby every single day, whether it’s crab soup (I much prefer tomato-based Maryland crab to cream-of-crab), crab dip, crab cakes or, best-of-all, plain old steamed crabs. The selection at the shore isn’t as good as in and around the Baltimore area, though. One of the most addictive, delicious things I’ve ever eaten is the crab pretzel—an oversize soft pretzel topped with chunky, creamy crab dip (seasoned with Old Bay, and sometimes hot sauce), then topped with melted cheese. Sinfully good.
Here at the magazine we get lots of opportunity to eat crab, which is great for my fix, since crab is so expensive. Two of my favorite recipes are Grace Parisi’s warm crab dip with fresh herbs (certainly a step up from the dip smothered on the crab pretzel, but an excellent showcase for the sweet, succulent meat) and a delicious curried crab and watermelon salad from chef Daniel Boulud.
If you can’t get good crab from your fishmonger and are willing to splurge, Phillips Seafood sells good lump crabmeat that comes packed in cans and lasts in the refrigerator for up to a year (making it nice to keep around if a sudden crab-cake urge should arise).
In Baltimore, people love Obrycki’s, but I find the seasoning too strong. I prefer the steamed crabs at Bo Brooks, even though their new digs aren’t as charming as the old place used to be.