There’s something relieving about pounding a wooden mallet on freshly steamed Maryland blue crab. In season, just caught out of the Chesapeake Bay, plump with savory meat with just the right amount of sweetness, the females with bright orange roe, and of course, plentiful tamales, the sexy mixture of green crab innards and organs.
Our SUV just made a sharp right turn, into a narrow two-lane road, seemingly leading to a residential neighborhood covered in ancient trees and shrubs. As we were searching for one of the most well-known crab houses in the area, I was expecting a bustling seaport, a dock overrun by streaming tourists and tour buses. The trees and shrubbery were a pleasant surprise.
The drive through the greenery was nostalgic, conjuring distant memories of from my childhood, when Grandpa took me through the mountains of rural Korea, in search of the best goat stew the country had to offer. The narrow roads, the trees and shrubs, and the anticipation – all was simmering in the cupboards of my mind.
Finally, we break out of the green tunnel, and there it was, the infamous crab house. The crowd was light, the parking plentiful. The old building sat right on the Bay, and as we jumped out of the SUV, the whiff of the Bay stormed into our nostrils.
Smothered in Old Bay seasoning, a dozen fresh blue crabs were strewn out in front of us. No plates, and only the absolutely necessary silverware. A large sheet of brown paper to cover the table and on go the crabs.
Grab the crab, and first tear open the lid to dive into the tamales. A spoon might be necessary here. The green mixture tastes of the ocean floor, of minerals and sea salt. The innards hone the absolute essence of the grab, all in one. As they spread onto your tongue, the sweetness and slight bitterness combines perfectly. Earthy.
Grab the claws, grab the mallet, and pound away, but not too savagely. You mustn’t destroy the tender claw meat. A dash of melted butter maybe? Don’t go too heavy on the cocktail sauce or the malt vinegar. As for me, the natural sweetness of the claws are heavenly as a solo act, untouched by man-made condiments.
The leg and body meat come last, and the seasoning has penetrated perfectly. Through late August and September, the Chesapeake crabs are plump and flavorful, and quite filling.
Walk out a content man. Plentiful crab and Diet Coke packed chaotically in my belly, the Old Bay scent permanently etched into my fingertips, the ever so slight residue of butter on the corners of my mouth – oh the satisfaction.
We drive out, bidding farewell to Cantler’s, already gazing towards next season’s catch.