MIDSUMMER EVENING SEAFOOD STEW
Midsummer Evening Seafood Stew
By Ken Rossignol
With great skepticism greeting every pronouncement from the official crab counters of Maryland with their breathless annual reports that all the Blue Crabs have taken off for other places to live other than the Chesapeake Bay, I use a trusted method to learn how the crabs are running.
I simply check my crab pots. After not baiting the pots for two weeks, the crabs are on their own to follow an occasional flounder or perch into the wire cages sitting in about four feet of water. With no chicken leg quarters enticing them to crawl sideways into the trap, those crustaceans that enter must be aware of the benefits of hanging out in the traps where the fish may flounder but do not escape and are easy prey for the sharp-clawed predators.
With the raising of the pots from the water revealing about a dozen and a half’ keepers,’ a few being number one Jimmies, their future is secure in the steamer. The steamer pot will soon be filled with about a half-gallon of water and a good dosing of Apple Cider Vinegar. Appropriate spice, lately J.O. seems to be of favor over the old standby, Old Bay, will be added to the water and then sprinkled on the hard crabs as they dance, jig, crab, bite and twist their way into the pot, sometimes grabbing the tongs or holding onto one another.
Now, the decision regarding what to do with these God-given morsels of the sea is on the table. The options are to break them apart, and clean out the Devil’s Fingers, otherwise known as the gills, the inners, the eyes, and the gooey stuff in the middle that is tasty and many call the ‘mustard.’ The shell, which was gripped and plucked off the cooked crab, is kept by some to wash out and stuff with crab imperial, thereby giving a second life to this crab. Another option is to simply eat the two halves of the crab body, working all of the fluffy, tender chunks of crab meat from the body and carefully cracking each claw and leg to reveal the juicy and sweet meat.
There is the rub.
Another option is to turn these now steamed bright red crabs, which were once referred to as blue crabs before their half-hour in the steamer – into a big bountiful pot of seafood stew.
Check around on YouTube, and you will be in for a lot of fun entertainment from Louisiana boys who provide suitable lessons on creating backyard masterpieces of crab and shrimp boils. They also peddle hot sauce and contraptions that will gently cool off the outside of your big pot that they cook on a propane burner next to their backyard smoker, grill, cooker, and swimming pool. Be sure to ‘subscribe’ to the videos you like to make it easier to find them again to check one of their red-hot suggestions.
As for the suggestions I found to be of value, I was learning how much hot sauce and how many cans of Old Bay some of these masters of boil dumped in their pots. Follow their advice if that is what makes your broth boil, but for those interested in a sumptuous seafood stew, know that a stew and a boil are two different parts of the crabhouse.
In some parts of Beaufort County, South Carolina, out on Lady’s Island, St. Helena Island, Hunting Island, and Hilton Head, where the old folks still reign supreme, they have the Frogmore Stew. Frogmore Stew includes aspects of the boil and meanders over to a stew where the liquid remains a part of the end result. In a boil, the emblazoned seafood and fire-infused vegetables are raised from the boiling pot in a large basket and then strewn down the length of a picnic table for the hungry.
The dinner took a turn to a summer stew, a seafood stew, when it came to mind that the freezer held a two-pound bag of wild-caught shrimp, heads off, deveined, shell-on. The shrimp are fine, like they are to be tossed in the stew, but this should be done just before the stew is served. Put the thawed shrimp into the pot on the stove and stir the stew so the shrimp are pushed down into the mixture and can cook in about three to four minutes. A small container of cooked mussels, thawed, can be tossed in simultaneously.
To get this pot started, fill it halfway with water and add in the vegetables – lots of vegetables. About two pounds of quartered red potatoes, a pound of fingerlings, half a pound of carrots, a half-pound package of whole mushrooms, a stalk of celery, and three large whole yellow or sweet onions. Get a good roiling boil going with no salt needed. Black pepper, three big tablespoons of crushed garlic, a cap full of Thyme, four or five lovely splashes of Worcestershire Sauce, just as much Hot Sauce, about a quarter of a small can of Phillips Seafood Seasoning (or use J.O. or Old Bay). Toss in the 18 crabs cooked and cleaned before, break the bodies in half and toss in all the legs and claws. The crab meat will fall out into the stew, and guests can easily break open the bodies and legs to get those sweet little morsels of meat.
Add in two pounds of low-salt Chicken and Garlic sausage and one pound of smoked Kielbasa. Slice both in small slices, and they will permeate the stew with their great flavorings.
After cooking and stirring for about four hours, call your crew to the table, and it’s time to add in the shrimp and the fully cooked mussels. Stir up the pot to be sure the shrimp are done but not overcooked and serve the Midsummer Evening Seafood Stew in metal pots to retain the heat once on the table.
If your guests want assignments, tell them to bring homemade cornbread or sides like homemade country coleslaw, and maybe someone will get some homemade cheesecake as our guests did. Since this is a stew and not a boil, keeping the thick broth with the stew is not only important but also crazy good.