Crabs and Spaghetti

 Summer. Crabs. Big blue claws. Blue claw crabs. Time for crabs and spaghetti.The day before, check the tide schedule for the back bay. You need the peak hours of an outgoing or incoming tide. Incoming is the best น้ำเต้าปูปลา. The tide brings the crabs. Pull out the crab baskets. Check their lines. Load them up in the car. Everybody in? Head to the bait store on the docks. A pound of frozen bunker. Then off to a bulkhead along the back-bay. The argument: which inlet is the best? The decision: Sunset Bay. Pull the car up to the bulkhead. Pull out the gear. Bait each basket with bunker. In the time from the bait store to the bulkhead, the August heat has thawed the bunker. Push a thick string through the bunker's eye with a sharp knife and secure it to the basket base. (By the way, "bunker" is not a place to hide in battle. It's a kind of otherwise inedible fish whose head is used for bait.) The tide is coming in, bringing with it all those sweet blue claw crabs that will be dinner. The basket and bunker do down: down to the hidden depths of the back- bay. When the basket hits the bottom the side flaps fall down open. The bunker is tied to the center. The four doors of the basket are ready to receive their prey. You sit on the bulkheads that protect the island from the bay. The bulkhead wood is coated in tar. In the August heat the tar melts and sticks to your clothes and to your feet. The melting tar has a fragrance something like incense. Horseflies bite. And it's a real bite, not the itchy sting of a mosquito. They make welts the size of a quarter. You wait. Patience. Patience. Then, something tells you "pull!" You grab the line. You pull. The crab basket doors slam shut. Up, up, up, the basket comes up. There it is. You can see it just below the water line, a catch! And the wet basket spins over the bulkhead to reveal......No! A green crab!

Green crabs, or, maybe a spider crab tangled in green seaweed. That's pretty much what you find in your basket more often than not these days. Like so many other fish and crustaceans that once filled the waters of South Jersey, the Blue Claw is not easy to come by. Invasive species such as the inedible green crab seem to have taken over. I would also guess that the intense overpopulation of the Jersey sand bar islands have pushed away much of the natural sea life. Fifty years ago, just an hour or two of crabbing along the back-bay would have yielded a good dozen nicely sized blue claws.

So, yes, I still take my children out with our baskets. We still go through the bunker eye piercing ritual and we still tar our clothes and our feet. But we know, in the end, we will catch almost nothing in our crab baskets. We will have to drive to one of the local piers to buy our crabs: crabs that probably came from commercial crabbers in Delaware or Maryland. Of course, these crabs are still live, still Blue Claws, still sweet and delicious. But they're not from home and we didn't catch them. But, let's not get lost in nostalgia. Neither the crabs nor the spaghetti know where they came from. The end result for this recipe will still be the same.

How do you eat this? First, everyone at the table gets a wet cloth. This is not a neat dinner. You use your hands. Take a twist of the spaghetti. Then lay your hands on a crab half. Crack the half in two. Put the half to your mouth, then tooth and suck out the sweet white meat from the crab's center. Next, go for the claw. Set it between your teeth at its center. Crack. Pull away. Another nice large chunk is right inside. Do the same with each of the small legs น้ําเต้าปูปลา. By now, you are covered fingers and face with sauce. This is why you need the wet cloth.

Here's a fun side note for the kids. After you've cracked open the claw and removed its meat, you will see the tendon that operates the claw. Give it a push and pull and the claw opens and closes. As kids we loved to make those pinchers bite the air.

There is nothing like a summer's dinner of crabs and spaghetti. It's the culmination of summer. It's the sky, the water, the sweet atmosphere of tomato and crab and salt air. It's a sense of freedom from all cares: a perpetual and physical memory of childhood cradled in a bowl.


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