For a farm girl, I’m inconsistently squeamish about killing things. Flies in our house are caught with a cup and freed outdoors, but roaches are mercilessly squashed. Ants might be allowed to roam across counter tops for days, then tortured to death with poison from traps placed in strategic corners. Meat from sentient creatures such as cows, goats, and chickens is consumed with abandon . . . and I can’t put a live crab in boiling water.
The crabs caused a lot of trouble a couple of weeks ago, when Walking Fish, our CSF (Community Sponsored Fishery), let us know that North Carolina blue crabs were in the next delivery.
I’d been avoiding the crabs, and apparently so had many other Walking Fishers. Originally, members were simply told that crabs would be arriving as part of their weekly share; those who didn’t want the crabs could write to the group’s e-mail list and arrange for an exchange with another member. But it seems there was so much switching around, and too many crabs not being taken, that Walking Fish changed the policy. Now, when crabs come in, those brave enough to face them down have to add their names to a list.
Fred wanted to be on that list–the list of mighty crab killers. Why remains a mystery, but it is probably the same impulse that propels him–my sensitive, bookish artist–to yell at hapless pitchers and treat interstate on-ramps like entryways to the Indy 500.
“Will you just have it all done when I get home?” I pleaded.
“Sure,” he said. Perhaps it was my imagination, but his chest puffed out the tiniest bit. “I’ll look up how to do it on the internet.”
That should have been my first warning.
As usual, he picked me up from work on Thursday.
“How are the crabs?” I asked.
He couldn’t seem to look at me. His head drooped. “It was awful,” he said. “I couldn’t get any meat out of them. I tried and tried and I got just enough to put on a cracker.”
Confused, I asked, “What do you mean there was no meat?”
“There was just this watery stuff, mostly, and then I couldn’t get the meat to pull away from the shells.”
I pondered this. “That’s odd.”
Then it came to me. “Did you cook them before you tried to get the meat out?”
He looked up, and the life drained from his eyes. “Cook them? The internet instructions didn’t say anything about cooking them first.”
At moments like these in married life–like when the Braves lost to the Giants in the playoffs, or when a man struggles with assembly instructions you figured out an hour ago–it is important to be gentle. “Honey, I think you need to cook them first.”
He put his head in his hands. “But the instructions didn’t say anything about cooking them first. They just talked about cleaning them. I thought it was like fish, or chicken. You know, you clean it, then you cook it.”
I put a hand on his shoulder. He looked up again, despair clouding his face. “Why didn’t they say anything about cooking them first?”
Now is probably not the time to mention crab boils, I thought, or all the stories you hear about cooking live crabs, or children’s movies like The Little Mermaid, which admittedly Fred probably never saw. Instead, I patted his hand.
“We can probably salvage something,” I said. “I’ll take a look when I get home.”
“I don’t know,” he moaned. “There really isn’t much there.”
I figured he was exaggerating. Unfortunately, he wasn’t.
If you’ve ever wondered how much meat you can get from six blue crabs without cooking them first, here it is.
Luckily, Fred stopped his cleaning efforts before he got to the claws. We boiled the carnage, seasoning the water with herbes de Provence and salt. We made an appetizer of the meat we salvaged. It was sweet and tender, possibly the best I’ve had.
Fred’s been pondering the meaning of this incident ever since. He’s wondered how many times, at 50, he’s missed critical first steps. He’s even considered the crabs as a metaphor for his whole life.
That may be true. If so, then it’s also true that a few good things can be salvaged from a mess. And that we’ll get another shot at the crabs, if we want.