My mother’s side of the family, the Ovington clan, hails from Maryland, so my blood is blue—blue crabs, that is. Every Memorial Day, we cluster in the baking sun around long tables covered in newspaper until some fashionably late Ovington arrives laden with the centerpiece of the occasion: a fragrant bushel of crabs. Then we dig in.
An assortment of tools are available, and the ones you choose tell a lot about you. Some are fans of the hand-held crab cracker, a specialized tool tailor-made for our purposes (and therefore far too easy). Others prefer a hammer and fork, a blunt approach that ends with shards of shell contaminating the meat.
My strategy is a bit different, two-fold and methodical: Surgical gloves, white and sweaty against my palms under the hot sun; precision implements like sewing scissors and a long silver tine. An unorthodox approach, sure, and somewhat ridiculed. It might be less comfortable in the short run, but I would rather earn the friendly laughter of family than pricks from sharp shell pieces or the three-day sting of Old Bay under the fingernails. In this game, it’s everyone for themselves; there are only so many claws in the barrel.
“If you don’t clean it, you don’t get to eat it.” When I was younger, this mantra was more often than not followed by a sly wink and the passing of meat into hands too young to wield a crabhammer, but I always took it to heart, a bit too serious until I figured out the joke. Today, however, with no cousins in the family under twelve, the law is enforced with an iron mallet. Not that anyone minds when I slide a chunk of claw-meat to the less fortunate, like the patient dog-turned-vacuum at our feet.
I learned from a young age the correct procedure for disassembling and consuming our friend Callinectes sapidus, an intricate motion of prying shells, scraping gills, and cracking the carapace to extract slivers of meat no bigger than your pinky finger. Such a struggle might seem pointless, but to me, it’s more about the experience and community than it is about the final product. If I just wanted crab, I’d buy it canned. The family and labor make it worth it.