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Crabs, Crabs, and More Crabs

August 8, 2002

Steam ‘em. Broil ‘em. Bake ‘em. Pick ‘em. Stuff ‘em.

Whatever way they’re prepared, crabs are a summer favorite. And the reports about the dearth of crabs may not be as dire as they seem.

One of the most popular ways to enjoy crabs is at crab feasts, whether they are held at home or at one of the local crab houses. At these events crabs are usually steamed with Old Bay Seasoning and dropped in piles onto tables covered with brown paper. Mallets and picks are usually provided for picking the crab. Pitchers of beer are usually on hand to help wash down the spicy seasoning.

This is how they’ll be serving crabs at the All-You-Can-Eat Crab Feast in conjunction with The Rotary Clubs of Alexandria West End, Mount Vernon, West Potomac and East Fairfax County.

John Sykes, president of the West Potomac Rotary Club, is helping to coordinate the event, and though he is a New Englander and prefers lobster, he enjoys eating crabs foremost because it is a social thing. “You get dirty and drink beer,” he said.

UNLIKE LOBSTER, where the meat comes out of the shell readily, crabs are more resistant. First of all, they’re much smaller than a lobster, so they don’t yield as much. Secondly, sections must be separated just right so as to get a clean pick. As a result of this, it takes much longer to consume a meal of crabs, taking a couple of hours for a crab-lover to pick his fill of the succulent meat. This time-consuming process is precisely why crab feasts are held, allowing crab enthusiasts to spend their time with others while enjoying themselves.

After the crab feast, meat from left-over crabs can be put to good use creating items such as crab dip, stuffed crabs and crab cakes (see below for recipes). Tired of picking? Then pick up a container of picked crab meat sold at local grocery stores, seafood stores or Sutton Place Gourmet.

Sykes has selected Jessie Taylor Seafood from Maine Avenue to provide the crabs for the event this year because “the people who have coordinated the Pohick Crab Feast for the past few years have been very pleased with them.”

Sykes was a little concerned about the supposed shortage and high prices but said that the workers at Jessie Taylor told him, “There’s no shortage of crabs. In fact the prices just came down.” Sykes was also told that late August was the best time for crabs, a fact he took into consideration when selecting the Aug. 17 date.

The crab feast will be held from 2-5 p.m. at The Knights of Columbus Hall on 8592 Richmond Highway. Tickets are $25 and are available at Peking Duck Restaurant and Minuteman Press on Pickett Street. Price will include corn and cole slaw. Children under 8 are admitted free when accompanied by a paying adult.

Dick Freund is president of the Mount Vernon Rotary Club and said, “I think it’s neat that the three Rotary clubs are working together. We’ll raise some money [for the local community] and have fun.”

Pohick Church will hold its crab feast in late September. For more information on that, call 703-550-0444.

AN ALTERNATIVE to hard-shell crabs is the popular soft-shell crabs, which are in season until late September. These are the blue crabs that have just molted or backed out of their hard shells. The entire crab is sautéed, grilled, deep fried, broiled or fried tempura style, and they are served in local restaurants. Pam Milley is a manager at McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant in Reston and says that "crab meat is incredibly popular at restaurants. So many people who visit this area don't get to eat fresh crab meat that often, so coming to our restaurant is a special event."

Soft-shell crabs can also be ordered by contacting John T. Handy Co. Inc., a seafood company that provides prepared crab dishes to local restaurants and providers. It can be reached at its Web site, www.handycrab.com, or by calling 1-800-HANDY-SS.

CRABS OF ALL KINDS are available in local restaurants such as Ernie’s Original Crab House in Mount Vernon, 703-765-1000; Capt. White’s Crab House, Mount Vernon, 703-765-7900; Ernie’s Original Crab House in Alexandria, 703-836-1623; Joe's Crab Shack in Sterling, 703-421-3500; Legal Seafoods in Tysons, 703-827-8900; McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurants in Reston, 703-481-6600, and Tysons, 703-848-8000; Captain Pell's Crab House in Fairfax, 703-560-0060; The Crab House Seafood Restaurant in Fair Lakes, 703-968-2601; and M. Slavin & Sons, 703-486-0400.

As part of their “Clams ... and More” promotion, local Clyde’s Restaurants are serving New England Jonah crab claws, cracked and served cold with mustard sauce, or Alaskan king crab legs, steamed and served with butter. There are Clyde's in Reston, 703-787-6601; Tysons Corner, 703-734-1900; and Alexandria, 703-820-8300.

Ernie’s Crab House on Richmond Highway charges the following prices for a dozen of its crabs: regular, $20; medium, $32; large, $45; extra large, $60; and jumbo, $72.

McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurants in Reston and Tysons offer blue crabs, West Coast Dungeness crabs, crab cakes and crab soup. Since they receive their crabs fresh every day, the prices can vary, but for two crabs the average price is $24, and $21.85 for crab cakes.

Joe's Crab Shack in Sterling offers a wide variety of crabs, including Alaskan king crab, snow crab and Dungeness crab. Their prices range from $15.99 to $24.99.

Captain Pell's Crab House in Fairfax offers an all-you-can-eat crab feast with male crabs at $22 a person and female crabs, $16 a person.

Legal Seafoods in Tysons is currently offering crab cakes made from jumbo lump crab ranging in price from $12.95 for the appetizer to $26.95 for a dinner. They also offer soft-shell crabs done Provencale style, where they are sautéed in garlic, butter and mushrooms, for $26.95. They also offer fried Romano style, with two for $20.95 and three for $26.95.

MARYLAND CRAB CAKES

(provided by the Gov. Parris N. Glendening)

1 pound Maryland crab meat

1 cup seasoned bread crumbs

1 large egg

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon dry mustard

Margarine, butter or oil for frying

Remove all cartilage from crab meat. In a bowl, mix bread crumbs, eggs, mayonnaise and seasonings. Add crab meat and mix gently but thoroughly. If mixture is too dry, add a little more mayonnaise. Shape into six cakes. Cook cakes in a frying pan, in just enough fat to prevent sticking, until they are browned (about five minutes on each side).

* Note: If desired, crab cakes may be deep-fried at 350 degrees for two to three minutes, or until browned.