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To steam crabs or to boil them? The debate between ‘The Wire’s’ David Simon, Wendell Pierce roils on Twitter

Chesapeake Bay blue crabs that have been steamed sit in their steaming pot.
Chesapeake Bay blue crabs that have been steamed sit in their steaming pot. (Ken Rygh)

To boil crabs or to steam them, that is the question.

Just kidding, no, it’s not. Marylanders know that crabs should be steamed, as they are at the majority of crab houses in the Baltimore area. However, our countrymen along much of the East Coast and in the South just as fervently believe in boiling crabs, a fact we were reminded of in recent days when none other than Baltimore resident David Simon and Louisianan Wendell Pierce, who played “Bunk” on “The Wire,” created by Simon, got into a Twitter spat about the preferred method of cooking.

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“Boil is a tragic error in speech and deed,” Simon wrote on Twitter, calling steamed “undrowned” blue crabs “God’s recipe,” whereas boiled crabs are “the rare, singular crime in seafood preparation committed within Orleans Parish.”

Not to be outdone, Wendell Pierce replied that it was “shameful” that Simon, “one of America’s literary geniuses of television … embrace the foolery of seasoning the outer shell of these tasty crustaceans.”

(Perhaps it’s worth mentioning that this all started after former Baltimore police spokesman T.J. Smith, who now works in Baltimore County, tweeted about Pierce’s “hardcore crab eating” in “The Wire’s” second season.)

It’s not the first time Pierce has come to bat for boiled crabs. Early this year, on a radio interview with incoming police commissioner Michael Harrison, who previously led the police department in New Orleans, Pierce warned Harrison of Baltimoreans’ preference for steamed crabs. “They season them on the outside," Pierce said. "You can show them how to boil ’em.”

Pierce has cooks in Louisiana on his side: At Schaefer’s Seafood in Metairie, Louisiana, crabs, crawfish and other sea dwellers get boiled in water seasoned with a custom house blend, said Mitchell Schaefer. (Other places may use Zatarain’s, Louisiana’s answer to Old Bay.)

Asked if he had ever steamed his crabs, Schaefer replied: “No, ma’am… I think that’s more of a northern thing. We don’t do that around here.”

The earliest reference to steamed crabs in The Baltimore Sun archives is found in 1877, when members of the Maryland National Guard reportedly feasted on bean soup and steamed crabs while stationed in Baltimore.

The proud Maryland practice of steaming hasn’t stopped the entry of a few Cajun-style seafood boil restaurants entering the marketplace. Florida-based chain Crafty Crab is opening five new branches in Maryland, while the Urban Oyster in Locust Point sells seafood boils nightly.

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