Blue crabs are a delicacy that is often synonymous with Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay areas of Virginia. In reality though, pretty much everywhere along the East and Gulf Coasts of the United States where you can find coastal marsh land there will be crabs. This includes the Peace River in Punta Gorda Florida where Peace River Seafood is found. As I sat there with the owner shucking oysters, popping tails off shrimp and picking meat from crabs fresh caught that morning, it brought back childhood memories of doing the same. Unfortunately, not everyone is as privileged as I was to have grown up with fresh crabs, so here's a primer on how to eat blue crabs ...
Florida Blue Crabs are Delicious
While fundamentally, blue crabs are blue crabs there are important variations between crabs caught in one area vs another. Despite this, while they are separated by thousands of miles of coastline, Chesapeake Bay crabs and those from Charlotte Harbor in Florida are very similar. In fact, the owner of Peace River Seafood even shared that the crabbing industry there depends on demand from people seeking "Chesapeake crab" and so much of their product is actually shipped north rather than consumed in Florida. The crabs I enjoyed there though were big and beautifully colored with plump and easy to eat meat that was as sweet as anything I've ever had from anywhere else.
Even better was that the blue crabs you see in the photo above were caught that morning and were alive just minutes before hitting our table!
For those of you who have never lived in an area where blue crabs were readily on the menu, you may have some difficulty learning how to eat blue crabs. Luckily though, the process is easy to learn and involves just a few simple steps; you will be an expert quickly if you are willing to try. At Peace River Seafood, they are famous for their All You Can Eat Blue Crab featuring their unique seasoning that is similar to Old Bay Seasoning but with a larger grain salt. The residents of Florida have been enjoying the delights of blue crabs for ages, but only in the past few years has this area begun to rise in notoriety for it's fantastic blue crabs.
Are you ready to start picking crab? All it takes are the correct tools, a little patience and an appetite!
Tools You Need to Eat Blue Crab ...
At the most basic level, all you really need to be able to enjoy eating blue crab is your bare hands, a surface that you don't mind getting messy, and clothing that you don't mind getting crab, guts, and seasoning on.
However, like any job - the proper tools make things a lot easier. We recommend that you have at very least a mallet to help crush the legs shells, a pairing knife to cut apart the leg clusters, and a pick of some sort to help get hard to reach meat from the legs. You will also want to have a bucket for discarded pieces of shell, plenty of paper towels and wet naps to clean your hands. Beyond that, you are pretty much on your own but I enjoy eating blue crabs the most in a casual environment like a back porch or picnic table covered in old newspaper.
How to Eat Blue Crabs Like a Pro
The only bad way to eat blue crabs is so slowly that there's none left for you to have more. For most of us, eating blue crabs is something that we've learned over the years from watching our dads and older brothers. If you're new to this amazing food though, don't worry. You can learn quickly, so let's grab a beer or sweet tea and let's get started learning how to eat blue crabs like a pro!
Step One: Turn the Crab On It's Back
The first thing to do is turn the blue crab over so that the top shell is facing the table and the white belly is facing upwards.
Step Two: Remove the Top Shell
For the second step, you will need a table knife to remove the top shell. Many people choose to do this with their fingers. Luckily, there is a piece of shell (the tail) on the belly that makes this easy. Pull that tail up like you would a beer can tab and then give the top shell a good twist to pry it off the crab's body.
Step Three: Remove the Gills and Guts
Next, with the top shell gone, you'll find the gills attached to both sides of the crabs body. Remove them along with the guts you find inside. Once you have removed the gills and guts, you're ready to crack the crab all the way down the center of the body and start picking the meat!
Step Four: Start Pickin'
Now, look at where the back legs are attached to the body of the crab. You need to press lightly on this area. This will make the backfin meat pop right out though you may need to pull it with your fingers or remove the soft inner shell parts that separate the meat around each leg. This meat is some of the sweetest blue crab meat and it is my favorite part of the crab. Now you can use your fingers to pull the remaining meat right out of the body.
Step Five: Attack the Legs and Claws
With the lump meat found in the clusters under control, now it's time to attack the crab's legs and claws. While the smaller legs DO have meat, most people ignore this area or simply break them in half, squeeze and suck whatever they can from them. The two larger claws are a different story. To get the meat there, take the mallet and crack the shell. Others prefer to have crab crackers (like a nut cracker), but I like the visceral nature of a mallet. Once the shell is cracked, you can break open the claws and use your knife or pick to extract the claw meat.
Relax and Enjoy Eating The Crab With Friends!
Most people like to eat blue crab with a dipping sauce. Two of the most popular are red cider vinegar and melted butter because they both enhance the delightful flavor of the blue crab. Personally, I prefer melted butter, but to each their own tastes I suppose.
The important thing to remember when eating blue crabs is to relax and enjoy your meal with friends and family!
Peace River Seafood serves up fresh, all you can eat blue crabs Tuesday-Saturday from 11:00 am - 7:30 pm (no crab served after 7pm). Pricing as of November, 2017 was $30 and you can also order a dozen steamed crabs for $48.95 if you are looking for something lighter to share. They also have a retail store selling fresh fish, oysters, shrimp - and yes crabs that you can take home and steam yourself.
Once you have tasted blue crabs, there is no doubt you will come back for more and Peace River Seafood is one of the best places to do it!