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Don't get steamed Seasoned veterans offer crab advice


EVEN THE BEST of things diminish in appeal if they're the same time after time. And steamed crabs -- much as we love them -- are no exception.

With many crab aficionados, it's the same thing time after time. Catch 'em, or buy 'em, add liquid (water, often with beer or/and vinegar mixed in), red seafood seasoning, and steam them. Nothing wrong with that -- but time after time it can get to be a bit much.

Hey, let's change that old time honored routine. Let's do something different, says Joe Bernard. Bernard not only lives in the heart of the crab country, but also makes his living on seafood marketing -- especially crabs and crab associated products.

In Bernard's backyard at Bennett Point on the Wye River, there are a couple boats, one primarily for crabbing; there are live boxes for keeping crabs lively until they're needed for the pot, crab pots and other crabbing paraphernalia. There is also an outdoor gas grill to provide fast and even heat for steaming.

Several miles away on Route 50 at Kent Island is Wye River Inc., the business founded in 1984 by Bernard and Mike Rossbach, which makes and markets a number of seafood products including two popular seasonings: Original Red and Spicy Black. Crabs for the business are purchased on contract, and are subject to precise preparation formulas. Crabs caught near his home are for the family table.

Bernard prefers steaming liquid that is half beer and half water. Beer provides better steam, more bubbly moisture, says Bernard. Also, he claims he has found that imported beer does the job better than the domestic product. He doesn't use vinegar. Vinegar in dips and steaming liquid gives crabs a bit of a bitter taste, he claims.

vTC So much for the time-honored way. Bernard prefers cooking crabs in something like a New England style clambake. He adds potatoes and fresh sweet corn -- and again to avoid repetition, he switches seasonings; red and black. He pioneered in the latter, which I prefer to the red most crab steamers use.

The traditional Original Red is hot, hot, hot. The black has more low-key spices, also mustard, and has black and white pepper. It's the best choice, hands down, if corn is involved in steaming, the same for soft shell clams. I like to use it on vegetables, salads, meats and anything else that calls for seasoning. It doesn't make everything taste like a steamed crab.

But, now for that crab version of a New England clambake. The procedure is the same for both red and black seasoning, so change the seasoning periodically. But, don't mix the two. Use one or the other.

This recipe will feed about four people. Bernard recommends cooks add garlic and onion to taste.

To make this recipe you will need a 19-quart double-boiler pot, available in most grocery stores for about $22, according to Bernard. Crab Bake

18 large live crabs (or three dozen smaller ones)

18 ounces beer

18 ounces water

Seafood seasoning, red or black

Cheese cloth sacks or large pieces of cheese cloth

40 to 60 soft shell Chesapeake clams, about two pounds

10 small red potatoes, about

4 to 10 corn-on-the-cob (actual amount will depend on how much room left in pot)

In a large double boiler pot, mix beer and water. In the top pot (or atop the rack if you don't use a double boiler), place a layer of crabs, then sprinkle seasoning liberally, then another layer, more seasoning, and continue until all crabs are in the pot.

In a cheese cloth sack, or a piece of cheese cloth with both ends tied, add well-rinsed soft shell Chesapeake clams and sprinkle more seasoning.

Next, add small red potatoes, also in cheese cloth, sprinkle again with seasoning, then add the corn. Cut or break off the knobs at the big end of the cobs, then, fully husked with just the silk removed, add the corn to the pot. Cover tightly, and steam for about 20 minutes depending on heat.

Above all, you don't want the rising liquid to touch any of the food. Remember, you are steaming, not boiling.

When the potatoes test done with a fork, everything is ready.

Another easy and different crab idea is spaghetti and crabs. You'll need a pound of picked-over crab meat so steam some extra crabs. Bernard also says the recipe is good with claw crab meat or special-blend crab meat.

Bernard's mother, Dorothy Bernard, likes to add basil, black seasoning and brown and white sugar to the tomato sauce.

Crab Sauce for Spaghetti

1 clove garlic, or to taste

1 large onion

2 tablespoons olive oil, or more if needed

1 6-ounce can tomato paste

6 ounces water

1 26-ounce can tomato puree

1 pound hand-picked crab meat

1 pound cooked spaghetti

Finely cut up garlic and onions, saute in olive oil until lightly browned, set aside.

In large saucepan, mix tomato paste and water, then tomato puree. Add garlic and onion and simmer for one hour. Then add crab meat and cook for 10 to 15 minutes so that crab picks up sauce flavors.

Pour over hot, cooked pasta. Serves six.

Some people like vinegar or melted butter to eat with their steamed crabs. Bernard prefers the following sauce:

Dipping Sauce

1 pound butter

3-ounces lemon juice, fresh or bottled

3 or 4 shakes of a hot sauce like Tabasco

Red or black seafood seasoning

Mix together first three ingredients and place in microwave for 60 to 90 seconds to make it bubbly. Sprinkle a bit of red or black seafood seasoning on it.

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