Grab those wooden mallets because it’s time to chase down the delicate, sweet seafood flavor of the Chesapeake Bay blue crab, and in Kent County, on Maryland’s Upper Eastern Shore, the supply is plentiful and the tradition of celebrating the season is lively.
Callinectes sapidus or “beautiful, savory swimmers” have shades of blue mainly on their legs and claws, and some specimens, though rare, are entirely blue. No matter the amount of blue, these crabs harvested from the Chesapeake Bay promise sweet, delicate meat.
Blue crabs are smaller than Dungeness crabs, but when it comes to flavor, size doesn’t matter. Some of the sweetest meat comes from smaller crabs. You might work a bit more for those delicate morsels, but that’s part of the fun—a relaxed, communal meal that keeps the conversation flowing as everyone enjoys the great food and drinks.
Crack. Shuck. Savor.
The locals will tell you the Chesapeake Bay blue crabs are best when steamed, doused with apple cider vinegar and sprinkled with seasoning. Don’t expect melted butter to be served alongside these blue beauties; it’s all about the vinegar and dry seasoning.
The proprietary seasoning blend at Waterman’s Crab House includes “rock salt, some hot pepper and Old Bay, but that’s all I can tell you,” said Manager Ken Urban of the secret recipe. Enjoy outdoor seating at this dockside eatery and watch the boats come and go while listening to the sounds of sea (or live music on weekends). At Ford’s Seafood, savor it’s J.O. #2 Crab Seasoning that’s sprinkled on its local steamers. Dine there, buy in bulk for takeout, or the restaurant will even steam your own catch.
Buy steamed or live crabs by the dozen, half-bushel or bushel at Clark’s Seafood and Chester River Seafood—a True Blue Certified purveyor specializing in river crabs (which are caught on a trot line and tend to be sweeter). Chester River Seafood also ships anywhere in the U.S. for overnight delivery. Like Ford’s, both places will accommodate steaming your catch.
Not in the mood to work for your meat? Savor lump, claw and backfin crab meat from sea to table during the season at many Kent County restaurants. From waterfront eateries to seafood restaurants and beyond, you can find a variety of ways to savor this delicacy, such as moist crab cakes, rich and creamy Crab Imperial, a variety of crab-stuffed entrees, and Maryland vegetable or cream of crab soups. Also discover crab-enhanced pasta, sushi, salads, quesadillas, wontons, even pretzels—because crab makes everything taste better.
You’ll rarely experience the same dish twice since most chefs have their own special twist on the ingredients or the cooking method. Some recipes are handed down through the generations and kept under lock and key. Find family recipes for crab cakes that includes them being seared in a cast iron skillet to give the patties a perfectly browned, crusty outer layer with moist, succulent meat on the inside. Meanwhile, Maryland Crab Soup is also a favorite of locals and visitors alike.
Baiting These Beauties
Thankfully, crabbing for blues isn’t like crabbing for kings in the Bering Sea—it’s fairly easy and doesn’t put your life at risk. Join a crabbing charter with Captain Brant Nordhoff of the family-run Chesapeake Bay Crabbing Charters or aboard Miss Doe II, captained by Clay Larrimore who’s been guiding groups in search of these blue beauties since 1970. You’ll set out ahead of the rising sun to snag up to two bushels per person. After your midday return, take your bounty to one of the aforementioned market purveyors or steam them yourself, then spread out and get cracking at a county park.
If you want to try to catch blue crabs on your own, try your luck with a trotline or trap from shore or skiff (available for rent at Eastern Neck Boat Rentals), or launch your own boat from one of many public landings.
When handling a crab, be careful of those claws—hold these beautiful, savory swimmers above the back two legs or where one of its claws connects to the shell. Be sure to review state crabbing license regulations as well as time-of-day, size and catch limitations.
Whether cycling, bird watching, getting out on the water, taking a nature walk, exploring history, touring or having fun at one of the many events, you will fall in love with this very special Chesapeake Bay region called Kent County.