Cali Doxiadis much to her surprise discovers blue crabs in Corfu, the Greek island in the Ionian sea, and remembers that the last time she enjoyed them was in …Maryland, USA. Enjoy a memoir as well as three easy ways to cook and serve them.
They came to us here from very far, from the gray brackish waters of the Chesapeake Bay, in Maryland, a large lagoon divided from the Atlantic by only a sturdy strip of sandy barrier land. I used to sail in those murky waters which received wind but not waves from the Ocean. Having been spoiled by the Aegean and Ionian of my youth, I grumbled at having to sail in cold inhospitable water I wouldn’t be caught dead swimming in.
I might have been disdainful of the sailing conditions, but I relished the delicious crabs of the area, especially in April, their moulting season, when they were eaten whole, denuded of their armour. Lightly sautéed, the were a delicacy unknown to us Europeans: the famous “soft-shell” crabs of the East Coast. At other times of the year they were prepared in huge steamers in a fiery mix of spices, eaten with the help of hands and nut-crackers, washed down with cold beer.
Who could have foreseen that with the passing of time these same crabs would come to us here, in Corfu, copping a ride in the bilge waters of cargo holds. They are now all over the Adriatic and the Ionian seas and moving East.
“Dangerous invaders” is what they are rightly considered as they multiply rapidly in our warm waters, destroying our own delicate marine life. Our fishermen are desperate. Little do they know that the pests threatening their livelihood are sold in other continents for the price of lobster.
Their official name is Callinectes sapidus, and they’re commonly known as Maryland Blue Crabs. Their colour is a beautiful shade of gray blue, and unlike other crabs they sport a set of to flippers which allow them to swim gracefully rather than crawl awkwardly on the sea bottom. In the eighties there was an excellent book about them veering between history, natural studies, sociology and gastronomy. It was called Beautiful Swimmers
So now they’re here to stay and at least we can enjoy them.
I, personally, go to the market in Corfu town and buy about 15 for 10 euros, and make the most of them. When it is only for my private pleasure, I boil them for ten minutes, then patiently pick out the tender morsels of their flesh. It is a labour of love only to be attempted for a very special person. For Lefteris I also made his beloved crab cakes, but I don’t like them particularly, so I don’t bother now. The small quantity of delicious white flesh (about two spoonfuls) I enjoy dressed with a couple of drops of lemon juice.
For a group I cook them in a sauce for pasta. I prepare a sauce with onion, tomato and large quantities of red pepper, both or either hot or sweet depending on one’s tastes. In Corfu, the hotter the better. I cook the crabs in the sauce for about ten minutes, then strain the sauce over spaghetti. The crabs I cut into pieces and put in a bowl in the middle of the (oilcloth covered) table. Some are content with eating the crab infused pasta, while others also pitch in with hands and nut-crackers, digging cracking and slurping with great gusto.
Beyond, however, our ephemeral pleasure: we need to wake up, educate ourselves and our fishermen, and get our fill of this delicacy before its price shoots sky high. Targeted fishing will balance out our marine population. We need to save our local seas, and at the same time make the most of this delectable species which has landed uninvited in our midst. Can we do it?