birthday bushel


This post is about the crab feast I threw! After a whole lot of description of mine you’ll find some good instructions on how to have yours. Which is the purpose. Because have one you should.

I’m not sure I’m ready to write about this yet because I swear I still smell like Old Bay. But I also can’t wait because it was really exciting, and I have lots to say! On Monday I cooked a bushel of crabs to celebrate Dan and Claire’s birthdays. A BUSHEL of crabs. Okay, this post really starts a few weeks ago when Sami, Emily, our forager friend Annie, and I trekked to the Hunts Point Fulton Fish Market in the wee hours. When I saw a bushel basket full of #2s I almost felt the summer creeping in. I thought about Dan, because he’s like a kid in a candy store when it comes to crabs, except he pairs his treat with more than a few cans of beer. The man working the stall gave me a good price, a wink, and his card. M Slavin & Sons, originally a Brooklyn-based fish purveyor, is now a global wholesale brand, and he guaranteed I could call anytime for a similar price and local delivery. So I called for the first occasion that presented itself: a birthday feast for two very important seafood loving people!

Over the weekend I amassed the provisions. The day of the feast I only had a few things left to pick up, like cheese. I remembered my audience and went simple on the cheese — soft Beltane chevre, and nutty Pleasant Ridge Reserve. It poured all day, so I went to Dan’s ASAP and holed up there, cooked, and waited for the big delivery.  When my phone rang, I rushed downstairs to pay the delivery man, staggered back up with the bushel basket, and got to work!

And what a job it was. I had a minor freak-out when I opened the lid and every single crab was a female. I’ve never eaten a female crab before, I don’t think. We definitely throw them back when we crab in the summers. Also, they just have less meat than the males! I felt like Slavin’s had taken me for a ride and I was pissed. But the she-crabs were in Dan’s apartment, dripping mud and other gunk on the floor, and there was no way to save them (or my $$). There was only one way forward, I told myself — the four (!!) steamer pots waiting on the stove. Armed with this sense of purpose, I attacked the bushel, transferring crabs into a strainer, rinsing them in cold water in the sink, and dumping them in the pots.

Maryland Steamed Crabs

1 bushel Blue Crabs*

6-pack light beer (I used National Bohemian)

1 bottle white vinegar

3 jars Old Bay Spice

clothing you really don’t care about. (ideal: other people’s crappy clothing)

A BIG pot with a steamer insert, or several smaller ones.

*In NYC in January, a bushel was $96, raw. Ask for #2s, and ask for Jimmys.

Fill bottom of pots with 2 parts water, 1 part Natty Bo (or other light beer), and about half that amount white vinegar. You should have about 1 inch liquid in the pot, so the liquid comes up to just below your steamer insert. Bring liquid to a boil.

This is when things got messy. I really thought I’d steamed crabs before. See, I like to pretend I’m really from the bay. But the fact is, for all the boats and crab pots I play with, I’ve probably only actually dropped a live crab into a pot once before, and somebody else was in charge of it after that. (This steaming advice comes from Mike Stroud — thanks, Mike!)

Collect a pot-ful sized amount of crabs from the bushel. You pick up crabs from the back fin, or the back of the shell between the rear fins, because from those spots they can’t pinch you. Rinse crabs in cold water. This helps get rid of some of the bottom-gunk attached, and some people think it helps shock the crabs so they don’t drop their claws right before they die. Then transfer to steamer pot, top with a generous amount of Old Bay, and cover.

Cook about 20 minutes (if using several standard size pasta pots … cook longer if you have a larger pot). Cook until shells turn from bluish to bright bright red and orange. Remove crabs and dump on dry, protected surface. Repeat!

Another problem was I underestimated size of a bushel, and I overestimated the size of the steamer pots. So “Repeat!,” which was not in Mike’s directions because he had a big industrial kitchen sized pot, became a factory paced operation with four pots staggered so one was always finishing and starting again. Each pot was used 3 times, and by the last round I really had it down. No longer did a crab destined for each pot escape underfoot as they had at the beginning. I became a crazy, crab-killin’ machine. Friends started arriving at this point and probably thought I’d gone off the deep end.

A last word direct from Mike: “It also helps if you give each crab a name before, it makes the meat taste sweeter.”

Sides for the crabs: I made cole slaw with two cabbages, carrots and spicy red onions, with small amounts of mayo, sugar, salt and vinegar. Also, 15 potatoes worth of curried potato and onion hash. We had bags of potatoes and a few storage onions from our CSA squirreled away for the feast. (Actually there wasn’t much squirreling involved … we are swimming in potatoes. Please. Take some.) And salad of course 🙂

There was crusty bread, semolina bread with fennel and golden raisins, and a rosemary loaf. All the breads were from Amy’s, just across the swanky Chelsea Market walkway from my new weekend job, and I got to use my vendor discount for the first time! Jake gave me half of this amazing meatloaf which was, inexplicably, not selling very well in the shop. Maybe “meatloaf” isn’t a fancy enough word for the Chelsea Market crowd.  Anyway, I knew from lunchtime at work that this particular meatloaf was rich enough to be a terrine almost, just a little denser.  Because work was a little slower than usual on Sunday, Adam got to try his hand at sausages, and I got to help him! He made these sweet lamb creations with fennel, dried apricot and cranberries, and I looped them around as they squirted into their casings. I took a pound or so of the meat used for that home too, for little lamb meatballs.

Here’s the bonus easy cole slaw recipe too!

Cole Slaw:

purple cabbage

green cabbage

carrots (i used pre-shredded, because it was pouring, and they were cheap and for sale where i was. also they were easy!)

red onion

1/2 cup mayo

3 Tbsp white vinegar (ingredient overlap = very important to wallet friendly party prep)

3 tsp sugar



Shred cabbage and mix with carrots and finely chopped red onion. Mix dressing separately so mayonnaise and vinegar don’t clump. Put it all together in a big bowl and refrigerate for a few hours pre-party to allow flavors to set in.

The best thing about a crab party is that its a process. Everyone takes their time, does their thing, and enjoys themselves. There was the group that stayed the hell away from the crab table, eating other things, drinking dark beers and then playing with some thing on Jared’s computer where you troll for random people to video chat with on the internet. And there were die hard crab eaters who strayed rarely from their picking spots. And those in between who, sometimes washing their hands and sometimes getting crab guts on their wine glasses. We all had too much fun, ate too much, and stayed up too late for a Monday. Crabs set the mood for the best kind of dinner party. Happy Birthday Claire and Dan!

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One Response to “birthday bushel”

  1. comings and goings « The Cooks and the Curious Says:

    […] yeah, and remember this night? Here’s where we found our crab […]

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