Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Unexpected Guests

We had some unexpected visitors last week. A rowdy bunch of crustaceans found their way to my doorstep...gifted to us by C’s godfather after their trip to the beach. C came home lugging a biggish, weave basket, announcing that we had fresh crabs.

Fresh crabs...yay!!!

Wait a minute...fresh crabs mean live crabs right? I looked at the basket, then at C, and I realized – although I have eaten crabs many, many times in my life, I have never dealt with live ones before. Uh-oh. I opened the basket, gave it a gentle shake, and took a tentative peek – multiple pairs of crab-eyes waved back at me. Stay calm, I told myself, before grabbing the phone to call a friend who also happens to be a fantastic cook. The conversation went something to the tune of me having a mini-fit trying to get 20 live, crawling crabs into the biggest basin I owned, while my friend laughed and pointed out quite needlessly, “You’re freaking out!

After much hilarity, he did give me the basic how-to on what to do, and what not to do, with my new pets, along with ideas on how to use them (I also consulted this terrific post). What I couldn’t do though was cook them right away because I had already prepared a BIG pot of chilli for dinner and I had nowhere near enough time to deal with the crabs. So, with assurances that they would indeed survive overnight, I left them in their basin, fretting like a nervous host over whether I should feed them or not, and if so what they should eat.

Sometime in the middle of dinner, we heard and scuffle and a thump and rushed to the basin and discovered that the crabs had formed a kind of crab-ladder with their bodies so that their mates could climb up and escape***! And one fellow already did! After a brief moment of discussion, and some worried murmuring from me about crabs crawling around the flat at night and getting into our bed, we decided to cook them right then and there! C got out biggest pot out; we passed around some beers, and got on with the business of, um, as my uncle called it – la matanza del cangrejo.

I won’t go into details here in consideration for the squeamish. Simply put, as we couldn’t eat them all, we boiled them and stored them (some in the fridge and some in the freezer). C and my cousin Y surprisingly rose to the occasion – a little too enthusiastically in fact! And at the end of it all, when the steaming hot, bright red crabs came out, all I could think of was how we were going to prepare them!

We had the first batch the very next day, steamed (just to heat them up again) in a bamboo steamer with wedges of lemon and sprigs of cilantro thrown in. I tossed knots of lemongrass into the steaming water to add another layer of fragrance. They were beyond delicious. Fresh white crabmeat, sweet and tender, eaten with our hands...dunked in C’s special dipping sauce, juices dripping from our fingers, as we recalled the night of “la matanza” like two old hands exchanging war tales.

The rest of the crab is safely tucked away in the freezer – waiting for me to decide what to do with them. I already have a few ideas, but suggestions are very much welcome!

So friends, keep yourself open to surprise, don’t buy into old ways of thinking, and always have room for unexpected guests! :)

***That part was actually incredible to see and would deserve a whole separate post of dissertation on the fallacies of “crab mentality” – a condition that I am now convinced exists only in humans! They should call it human-mentality and keep the crabs out of it!


MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

I'm worried here Joey, did you catch the escapee?
Sounds like many excellent dinners to come.

Katrina said...

Or maybe, crabs have evolved away from "crab mentality" while we humans still haven't! ;-)

I so enjoyed this post, Joey. It's unmistakably YOU. :-)

Corey said...

I too would have a similar reaction.

First it would be oh crabs I love crabs.

Oh crap, how do I cook these little guys!

It sounds like you made out pretty well. I'm going to make sure to check my pantry for some Old Bay Seasoning just in case any of my friends happen to drop by with a crate full of crabs!

veron said...

I remember when we had live crabs in the apartment and they were crawling all over the countertop. I ran away to the bedroom and had my guest who was more experience in handling them take care of them. :)

greasemonkey said...

i have a scar on the medial side of my left thumb from my first attempt at cooking live crabs (yes, by this ye shall know me), i'm glad you didn't get the same souvenir. =)

i'd like to suggest my two all time favorites for crab: sinigang sa bayabas and (old reliable) chili garlic (yeah!). nota bene: have A LOT of steamed rice ready. =)

ChichaJo said...

Hi Tanna! Yes, we did! It had just stumbled out so we were able to catch it before it went further!

Hi Katrina! Yes, perhaps the crabs evolved already...leaving us behind! Tsk tsk humans!

Hi Corey! Haha! Then you know where I am coming from :) Yes, good to have that Old Bay ready because you never know...

Hi Veron! Heehee :) My uncle once had a bunch of them too...which he kept in the bathtub!

Hello Greasemonkey! Yikes! I didn't get any scars thank goodness! I'm thinking of chili crabs...but sinigang sa bayabas sounds awesome!

Happy Jack said...

what a funny post! my mom always gets live crabs, so that's what i grew up with. when i was younger, i'd poke and pet them with a fork while they soaked in the sink. and it didn't bother me when they scratched at the pot as they boiled to death. i look back and realize it was kind of disturbing. but crabs are soooooo tasty...

Marvin said...

Maybe those crabs got a whiff of your chili and decided that they just had to have some!

Manggy said...

Oh WOW! Looove me some crab. Definitely worth buying one of those protective gloves from the hardware shop, just in case :) Straight up with buttah is always welcome. Crab cakes in their myriad variety are great. If you're feeling British you might like some potted crab!

Ash said...

Very funny! Great job handing those fresh crabs!
I think I would feel bad too. ...maybe just at first though. haha

Irene said...

Ooooh sounds amazing. I make a mean crab salad (http://confessionsoftart.blogspot.com/2008/11/best-crab-salad-ever.html), in case you are in the mood for it.

ChichaJo said...

Hi Happy Jack! They are tasty indeed! And I didn’t hear any of the scratching over the ruckus we were making choosing which crab would go next! :)

Hi Marvin! Hehe...maybe they did! ;)

Hi Manggy! I was just looking at a potted crab recipe in Jamie Oliver’s Cook with Jamie :)

Hi Ash! Yeah, although it helped being with friends!

Hi Irene! I am always in the mood for crab salad...what I am sometimes not in the mood for is picking out the crab meat...tends to go straight to my mouth instead! ;)

Socky said...

Love the footnote on crab mentality. Yeah, leave the crabs, the pigs, the chickens alone and stop blaming them for our human inadequacies!

ragamuffin girl said...

very funny post. do blog about that crab-ladder (did you get a pic?). I love crabs just the way they are, freshly steamed and dipped in spicy, garlicky vinegar but I wouldn't mind making me some crab cakes, crab po boys (esp. with soft-shell crabs, don't you think?), chili crab claws, a fruity crab salad, a crabmeat and aligue pasta, Chinese-style crab with vermicelli or with eggwhites, seafood and crab chowder or bisque, or a comforting crab relleno.:) am getting hungry here.

Watergirl said...

Free the crab! Amazing how they were all pulling together to escape, like in those WW2 movies or thrillers where the captives hoist each other up (by their own petards) to gain freedom. Except Joey's chef instincts sensed their plan and foiled them!
Next time another crate of crabs gets dumped on your doorstep, douse them in ice to get them all sleepy, so they don't escape.

Peabody said...

I wouldn't know what to do with live ones either.
But what a great gift.

Joan said...

Hi joey it's alway good to read your blog.

and now your post about crabs... :-)

Freethinker said...

Hi there,

Funny post! I wouldn't know how to deal with 20 live crabs either. :-)
As to menu suggestions, I love what my hubby cooked for me in last year's mother's day. It was crab in curry sauce- huge, fat, female crabs that were simply yummy to the aligue :-) It came out very delicious, I enjoyed every bite and to think that he couldn't eat it because of a life-threatening allergy to the crabby kind. :-) Anyway, the process is very much like how you cook chicken curry except that you replace chicken with crabs :-) Enjoy!

Marketman said...

Joey, crab dip, crab with sotanghon, chilli crab, crab omelet, stuffed crab, crab and corn soup... YUM!

Lael said...

What a hilarious post! Definitely a memorable kitchen experience...not to mention resulting in fantastic crab meat! I hope you continue to enjoy them.

angelika said...

Dearest Joey, I know I am a rare visitor (and even rarer commentor) these days but after a long time I have peeked into my soul friend's site again and how much I have like this crab story! And scrolling down I have gratefully noticed that breakfast no. 80 is still faaaaar ahead... All my love from here, angelika

ChichaJo said...

Hi Socky! Truly! Ask K about the crab mentality fallacy...I actually heard it from her, but witnessed it in action with these crabs!

Hi Ragamuffin Girl! I am the one getting hungry with all your suggestions! Sorry to say I didn’t get a photo of the crab-ladder...but they were all lying one semi-on-top of the other, and quite still (not struggling) :)

Hi WG! Quite amazing! Not my chef instinct though...more my fear of them crawling all over the flat (and into my bed!)! I’ll remember the trick with the ice!

Hi Peabody! It was a great gift! And now I’m feeling more confident with them :)

Hi Joan! Thanks so much! Glad you are enjoying my blathering!

Hi Freethinker! You won’t believe this but I just had some crab curry for dinner with our second batch! Great minds :) You have a very sweet and thoughtful hubby :)

Hi MM! I’ve linked up to your crab post with all the links to your recipes! I am still dreaming of your crab and dill spread!

Hi Lael! Happy you enjoyed the post :) We are enjoying the crab meat very much!

Hi Angelika!!!! So so nice to see you here! I am glad you enjoyed this post and I hope everything is wonderful for you! Big big hug from over here! :)

Erin said...

I totally miss all of the free seafood I recieved from my neighbors in New York. You lucky lady! Enjoy!

ChichaJo said...

Hi Erin! You had such nice neighbors! We definitely enjoy the seafood here :)