Experiencing crabs is definitely the best way to understand them, cookbook author John Shields -- and almost every other citizen of the Chesapeake region -- will agree. Here are three recipes from Mr. Shields' latest book, "The Chesapeake Bay Crab Cookbook" (Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., Inc., 1992, $10.95. Photographs in the book are by Baltimore Sun photographer Jed Kirschbaum.)
In the introduction to this recipe, which is from Little Italy resident Dolores Keh, Mr. Shields notes:
"Dolores suggests serving these wonderful stuffed shrimp with a tangy cocktail sauce, macaroni and cheese, steamed broccoli and corn bread. After all that good eating, it'll be hard to tell who's stuffed, the shrimp or you!"
Shrimp stuffed with crab meat Dolores
Serves four or five
cocktail sauce (recipe follows)
1 pound jumbo shrimp
2 heaping tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
1/4 cup Old Bay seasoning
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
L 2 slices white bread, diced and soaked in milk just to cover
1 pound backfin crab meat, picked over for shells
1 cup flour seasoned with salt and ground black pepper
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup or so fine dried bread crumbs
vegetable oil for frying
Prepare the sauce and set aside. Peel the shrimp, leaving on the last ring of shell and the tail. Devein and then butterfly along the inside curve of the body. Set aside.
In a small bowl combine the egg, mayonnaise, mustard, Old Bay, Worcestershire sauce and parsley. Mix well.
Place the crab meat and soaked bread crumbs in a large mixing bowl and pour the egg mixture over the top. Toss gently, taking care not to break up the lumps of crab meat.
Arrange the shrimp on a baking sheet or platter, flattening the bodies. Firmly mound some of the crab mixture on each shrimp.
To coat the shrimp, first dust them with the seasoned flour, then dip them in the beaten egg and lightly coat with the bread crumbs.
In a large skillet pour in vegetable oil to a depth of 1 inch or so and heat over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and fry, turning occasionally until golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove to paper towels to drain briefly.
Serve at once with the lemon wedges and sauce.
' Cocktail sauce Makes about 2 1/2 cups
2 cups ketchup
1/2 cup prepared horseradish
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
juice of 1 lemon
In a small bowl combine all the ingredients. Mix well.
Here's what Mr. Shields has to say about his preference in crab cakes:
"Gertie Cleary hailed from Baltimore's Greenmount Avenue and her cooking was legendary throughout St. Ann's parish and northeast Baltimore. These cakes are my absolute favorite. I must, however, admit my bias. Gertie was my grandmother and I grew up on these luscious spiced morsels of crab. This recipe has delighted four generations of my crab-loving family, so give them a try."
Gertie's crab cakes
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
-- of Tabasco sauce
1 pound lump or backfin crab meat, picked over for shells
1/4 cup cracker crumbs
vegetable oil for deep-frying
In a blender or mixing bowl, combine the egg, mayonnaise, mustard, pepper, Old Bay, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco sauce. Mix until frothy.
Place the crab meat in a bowl, sprinkle on the cracker crumbs and pour the egg mixture over the top. Gently toss or fold the ingredients together, taking care not to break up the lumps of crab meat.
Form the cakes by hand or with an ice cream scoop into rounded mounds about 3 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick. Do not pack the batter too firmly. The cakes should be as loose as possible, yet still hold their shape.
Pour oil into a deep skillet or a deep-fat fryer and heat to 375 degrees. Deep-fry the crab cakes, a few at a time, until golden brown on all sides, about 3 minutes. Remove to paper towels to drain briefly. Alternatively, slip the cakes under a preheated broiler and broil, turning once, until nicely browned, about 3 minutes on each side.
Serve at once.
Mr. Shields doesn't limit his interest in crab recipes to the traditional; in this next recipe, the dish was created not too long ago basically on the spur of the moment. Here is how Mr. Shields decribes it:
"Not many fellows 'round the Chesapeake Bay know more about what the fish are thinking or where they're hiding than Michael Paul Dahl. He lives with his family on the banks of Middle River, Maryland, and likes nothing better than spending a day on the water trying to lure the fishies to his carefully baited hook. This recipe came to him while he was fishing blue gills around Denton, Maryland. The locals there were catching crabs, and, at the end of the day, between them and Michael, they had a pile of crabs and blue gills. Normally that would be an unlikely pairing, but Michael set his head to working and he crafted this absolutely scrumptious dish that makes Friday nights (or any other, for that matter) worth waiting for."
Michael Paul's fish sticks
Serves six to eight
1 heaping tablespoon mayonnaise
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 pound backfin or claw crab meat, picked over for shell
1 1/2 pounds fish fillets (blue gill, crappie or any small whitefish fillets) cut into 3 by 1 inch pieces)
2 cups Bisquick
vegetable oil for frying
In a small bowl combine the egg, mayonnaise, mustard, salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, tarragon and parsley. Mix well.
Place the crab meat in a large mixing bowl and pour the egg mixture over the top. Mix gently, taking care not to break up the lumps of crab meat.
Line a baking sheet with waxed paper. Arrange the fish fillets on the baking sheet. Mound some of the crab mixture evenly on top of each fillet. It should be about 1/4 inch high. Place the baking sheet in the freezer until the fish and crab mixture is stiff, about 45 minutes.
Make a thin tempura-like batter out of the Bisquick and ice water. In a skillet pour in oil until it reaches a depth of about 1 inch and heat to 375. Being careful not to crowd the pan, dip each fillet into the batter, coating completely, and slip into the pan crab-side down. Pan fry, turning once, until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Remove the fillets to paper towels to drain. If all the fillets do not fit in the skillet at once, hold the cooked fillets in a warm oven while the others are being fried.
Serve hot with plenty of lemon wedges.