In order to celebrate one year of collaboration and food story sharing on FLT, Marita and I decided to share our own special meals. As such, the following is my tale and is told in first-person since I’m the tale-teller. Enjoy and thanks for reading and supporting our project!
It was an all-or-nothing third date. The deal-breaker hovered on my plate like a flattened statue—formidable yet defeated. Bob popped into his chair, stared at me. Can she handle this? flashed across his face. Whatever the this was, I was gonna handle it now. He flipped his rust-colored crab onto its back, legs flopping inside out—and took me through the process. I soon learned the this to which his challenge referred was the slick tail/intestine slithering from shell, the cuuaaa of the shell’s lid tearing from the body, the wobbly green tomalley hovering between sweet body meat and feather-like gills. He told me I had to taste the slimy green goo, and I did because I knew what was at stake. I was a white girl in a Filipino home, and if I went all putette on him, there would have been no fourth date.
Something extraordinary happened, though, after I licked the tomalley and the livery-flavor melted into my palate. I worked a section of leg and body from the crab, peeled away the translucent shell protecting succulent body meat so white it was almost too pure to eat. I went to dip the chunk into his grandmother’s sauce, but Bob covered it with his hand; “Never dip the first bite,” he said, so I popped it into my mouth. There the sweet current of love met the salty sea. It was as if he’d marinated the crab in sugary saltwater and magic; the liquid slid down my throat, and I had to be mindful to close my mouth lest it slide down my chin like drool, reflecting the state of bliss I’d entered and effectively ending our date. I dipped the second bite and another saliva explosion occurred: garlic bit my tongue while pepper tickled it and soy and vinegar curled around it. This was Nanay’s sauce. Bob again stared at me, assessing my reaction. I raved with a full mouth; it was too good for manners.
It’s been almost ten years since that deal-breaker date; we’ve been married over seven of them, and we steam Dungeness crab a few times a year. It’s even become our favorite anniversary meal even though September is early for crab. Even if we’ve cheated and had crab early, every time mid-November hits, the crab tingle begins on our tongues. We’ve waited months for pot-clinking and shell-cracking, and we’re impatient to introduce the newest crab rookie to the ritual.
Over the years, we’ve shared our crab clamoring with many friends and family, sometimes to a not-so-favorable response. This is no meal for the weak-hearted, as Bob calls, “Grab your swim buddy” to each crab before he releases the pair into the pot. As the steam builds, the claw clinking comes to a crescendo before it quiets all-together, and you must come to terms with what you have done. And what you are about to eat. The beige and purple live crabs steam to a beautiful brick and come out of the pot dripping fat. You have to be prepared for the sounds, the sights and the juice—which slides down forearms, dries under rings. You must arm yourselves with paper towels and prepare trash bags early. You must also bring your sense of adventure. No crabfest would be complete without Nanay’s sauce, the perfect blend of crushed garlic (always mashed using Nanay’s mortar and pestle), red wine vinegar, fresh-crushed black pepper and soy sauce. There is no actual recipe for the sauce, and Bob has adjusted it throughout the years; he thinks it started with a sauce his family served with lumpia at family parties during his childhood. One thing is certain: when you get the perfect balance of fragrance and taste: the garlic pinches, the pepper warms, the soy salts and the vinegar curls around your tongue, then you know you’ve got it right.
The consumption of crab is not merely a meal, it’s an experience to be shared. With or without crab crackers and meat diggers (which we offer to rookies), you work for your food. The rare and dare I say strange person picks her shell clean before chomping down; this is the wrong way to enjoy crab because you miss the warm salty-sea juice, the recurrence of mouth watering and then satisfactory dip and chew. When you embark on your own crab devouring fiesta, your fingers will stink, your animals will become wild, but your belly and spirit will be full.
Recipe for Crab & Nanay's Sauce: *Buy enough live crabs for your party; we always buy one extra. Items you need: Giant stock pot (80 quart or so for more than 3 crabs), a 2-quart glass bowl (should cover pot’s bottom and collect as much crab fat as possible to reduce the smell in your home), tongs, cookie sheet.
Prepare your pot before cooking: add enough water to fill bottom of pan (about two inches), place bowl in pot, put pot on stove on medium high heat. Clean crab. Pull crab one by one from bag with tongs. Carefully scrub crab with dish brush, place in pot directly over bowl, replace lid.
Prepare Nanay’s Sauce while crab cooks. Find your balance: Soy sauce, cracked pepper, red wine vinegar, crushed garlic: you’ll know it when you’ve got it.
Let crab steam for 20 mins until the fat emerges.
Crab Cleaning and Cracking: Flip crab upside down Remove intestines and mouth Flip crab back over and remove the lid (top part of shell) Catch green tomalley in the lid, scoop onto rice or discard Discard lid Peel feathery gills from inside crab and discard Place hands on either side of crab, legs woven between fingers Bend body bend in and out until it snaps in two Wrap fingers over a leg and gently pull leg from body Peel shell from body meat Dip second bite into Nanay’s sauce Dig finger into softest part of leg shell and twist away with a smooth motion