The Chesapeake Blue Crab has been a popular food source in the Maryland area dating back to long before the land was settled by European settlers in the 1600s. It is well known that the Native Americans ate plenty of the “beautiful swimmers” long before educating the settlers on how to consume the crustaceans that had long been cursed for tangling up fishing lines and clipping through the nets.
The curses definitely stopped after the ancient Native American Blue Crab recipe was shared with the settlers. Fisherman would go home with nothing to bring to the table except for the vicious, hard-shelled crab. We have since mastered the ways of preparing and eating the crab, but we can only guess how the crabs were made over 800 years ago. The earliest evidence of crab feasts in the Maryland area date back to the 1200s, so we know they were eating them…but how?
The earliest found recipe for preparing crabs comes from the 1685 edition of The Accomplisht Cook, by Robert May. This recipe for frying crabs describes taking the meat out of partially boiled claws and the body. The bodies would be used for meat and then strained off for sauce. Once all the meat was pulled together, it was mixed with grated bread, almond paste, nutmeg, salt, and egg yolks. This mixture was dipped in a batter, a spoonful at a time, and fried in clarified butter. A sauce was made from wine vinegar, butter, orange juice, nutmeg, and beaten until it was thick. This sauce was topped with portions of the body meat and served with bread. This recipe resembles the Crab Cakes and Crab Dip that can be found on any self-respecting seafood menu in and around Maryland today.
The 1747 edition of The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, by Hannah Glasse, contained a recipe “to butter crabs.” This recipe calls for two whole crabs that have already been boiled, chilled, and picked for meat. The meat is then minced small, then boiled with nutmeg, white wine, and vinegar. Once this boils up, it is mixed with another melted sauce that was prepared from butter that was melted with anchovy, and egg yolks. The boiling crab and the melted anchovy butter are mixed and served with toast points. You can get creative with your plating of this dish by using the main shell as a makeshift bowl for the buttery crab to be served in. This dish may have been the inspiration for what eventually became Crab Imperial.
The Crab Shack in Crofton and Edgewater uses a family recipe perfected over more than 30 years to make their crab cakes, crab dip, and all their delicious, locally sourced crab and seafood recipes. For more information on The Crab Shack, or to read about more Victorian Crab recipes, please visit www.thecrabshackmd.com