When you eat steamed crabs are you a dipper, a swiper or a sauce-maker?
A dipper removes the crab meat from the shell then drops it in a bowl of liquid, usually apple-cider vinegar or melted butter.
A swiper rubs the crab meat quickly over the bits of seasoning clinging to the shell.
A sauce-maker combines ingredients, usually mustard, mayonnaise and ketchup, then drags the crab meat through this creation.
There is also another option: None of the above. That is, just eating the crab meat as soon as it pops out of the shell.
I am a none-of-the-abover. In all my years of cracking crab, I have not noticed that other eaters were dipping, swiping or sauce-making. I guess I was too preoccupied with getting to the back-fin meat
But recently I spoke with proprietors of some of Maryland's well-known crab houses about these various crab-eating styles. They told me that the reason customers employ these techniques is simple: They think it makes the crab meat taste better.
"They feel it adds flavor," said Steve Eliades , owner of Bill's Terrace Inn in Essex.
"Apple-cider vinegar and butter are the normal" dipping solutions, he said. "Some customers ask for extra seasoning on the side. Not everybody does it, but it is pretty widely used."
One of his customers, Boog Powell, puts the crab seasoning in a bowl of vinegar, and dips crab meat into it, Eliades reported.
"Yeah, that's right," the former Oriole first baseman told me. "I'm a dipper. But I only dip the claws. I like all parts of the crab, the lid, the mustard, that is pure heaven. But I only dip the claws."
Powell, who spends the winters in Key West, Fla., and whose son operates a restaurant in Ocean City, said he has noticed that geography plays a role in how people approach the blue crab.
Floridians, he said, use blue crab "as a seasoning," putting it in lobster stews. In Delaware, he has seen cooks remove the top shell of the crab, "wash away the crab and mustard with a hose, then saute the crab meat in garlic and butter."
He prefers the Maryland method of steaming seasoned crabs, a technique he is attempting to teach the Floridians. "In Key West, we steam them in vinegar and beer. Then we sit down and have some fun; I have half of Key West eating Maryland-style," Powell said.
There are, he said, a few bowls of vinegar and some cans of Old Bay on the table at these feasts to accommodate the dippers.
In St. Michaels, the dipping sauces favored by the natives are butter and apple-cider vinegar, according to Wayne Bridges manager of The Crab Claw restaurant.
"Occasionally some customers will drag crab meat through a mixture of mustard, ketchup and mayonnaise," Bridges said. "But those folks are from Baltimore. We don't do that on the Shore."
Chris Jenkins said he sees the mustard, mayo and ketchup mixture appear on the tables of The Seaside, the Glen Burnie crab house he manages. It is not a treatment he prefers.
"I am not a big dipper; I am a swiper," he said, and described how he rubbed crab meat on the seasoning left on the shell. But he said everyone has different tastes. "Some people like three different dressings on their salad," he noted.
The staff at Obrycki's in East Baltimore has seen customers drag crab meat through an assortment of dipping sauces, said Cindy Bacon, a member of the Cernak family, owners of the restaurant. In addition to butter and apple cider vinegar, customers have requested bowls of balsamic vinegar and teriyaki sauce, she said.
One night some customers asked for olive oil. These crab eaters, she explained, were Italian.