Etiquette Tuesday: How to Put on a Fall Crab Feast

[ 1 ] October 27, 2015 |

DSC_0001There is etiquette in almost everything, which is why Etiquette Tuesday may never cease existence. Learning that there is etiquette in the crab feast only affirms my latter point. Here I thought all this time I could simply plop down with a spread of newspaper and dig in, but nooo, there are rules to this game. Not super serious, annoying rules rather rules that will actually make the experience even more enjoyable. Who do you go to when you want to know the rules of a proper crab feast? The Cheseapeake Bay area master of crab, Chef John Shields, is the answer.

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Maryland Crab Soup via Chef John Shields

Recently, I sat down to pick his brain and some fresh blue water crabs alongside a side of Sprite. Why Sprite? Apparently, Sprite and Ginger Ale are the top beverages to pair with your feast unless, of course, beer is in the vicinity and you choose to imbibe. Chef John is one of the most knowledgeable teachers that will you meet in the Cheseapeake region on the area of crabs. What exactly did I get from my crab lesson 101?? Here are five tips that will keep you on the correct side of crab feast etiquette:

  1. No dressing up. Wear your crab picking clothes that are not afraid of that fish smell. Yes, your crabs should have a fishy smell if they are truly “fresh” crabs. Chef John informed me that our region has become so accustomed to “processed” crabs sent from Asia that we do not recognize the smell of “fresh” crabs. He actually had guests come to his acclaimed restaurant, Gertrude’s in Baltimore, and tell him the crabs were not fresh because they had a fishy smell.
  2. No tablecloths. I had the newspaper right in my initial knowledge of the proper crab feast etiquette. After you are done with the feast you should also take some cleaning agent i.e. OxiClean powder, baking soda and sprinkle over the spread before disposing in the trash. This will mellow out the crabby smell.
  3. Bibs should be used. Feeling like a child on this one? Don’t worry. Give all of your guests one so you all blend in.
  4. Know your crab man. Chef John has a good relationship with the owner at Conrad’s in Baltimore (where he gets his crabs) who actually catches his own crabs. The Number One, Jimmy’s male crabs are the heavier crabs that Conrads offer and JKGF strongly recommends this spot after seeing that these crabs are almost the size of our heads.
  5. Keep your sides separate. Back in the olden days, sides were set aside on a separate table from the rest of the feast so guests could focus on the main attraction. Guests would eat their sides at the sides table and then return to the action when they were ready for more crabs. This tradition is kept by those true to the crab picking game. Sides to consider? Slaw, potato salad, sliced tomatoes (new one to me), corn on the cob and steamed potatoes.

The key to a successful crab feast is also attributed to the tools that you use. The key tools are a mallet and pairing knife, which is used to cut off the “knuckles” of the crab revealing the meatiest part. Now that you have your tools and tips, your next crab feast should be awesome (September-November are ideal feast time in this area because of the quality of crabs making their way up the estuaries). Don’t forget your best stories and whiskey: Legend has it that if there is no whiskey, the feast will turn into stone…

*Good cooking: Chesapeake Bay Cooking with John Shields

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Category: Etiquette Tuesday, seafood

About the Author ()

Johnna French is a Harlem NY native with deep roots in Washington, DC and North Carolina. All three places have heavily influenced her life and the foods she loves today. After graduating Howard University School of Law and beginning her life as a young professional in the city she was led to start Johnna Knows Good Food in November 2007 to keep family, friends and colleagues updated on where to go and what to eat while dining in the nation’s capitol. French, who still practices law, leads a team of three writers to cover the ever expanding Washington, DC food scene. French has been featured in print and television, appearing in Washingtonian Magazine and is a regular contributor to various local TV affiliates including WUSA 9, FOX 5 DC and WJLA (ABC Affiliate) News Channel 8. During the 2016-2017 football season, Johnna aired on Comcast Sports Mid-Atlantic (CSN) show, Redskins Life, as the weekly tailgate host. Johnna is currently a regular contributor to the FOX Baltimore Weekend morning show.

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