All it took was fishing line, raw chicken legs, and a modicum of patience. At least that’s what my uncle told all of us as we sunbathed on the deck of his house in Galveston Bay. Our entire family, enormous in its extended scope, had gathered for the annual Fourth of July party, and the children had been tasked with providing fresh caught crabs for dinner. “Suit up and let’s get going,” he said to nobody in particular, but we all obeyed, pushing and tripping each other as we rushed to the cars, fighting over who would ride shotgun.
The drive was all but ten minutes, but the excitement mingled with the thickly salted air of Galveston made it seem like an eternity. I peered out the window at the water below the bridge, the viscous dark clay from the Mississippi Delta giving the water its signature brown hue. I had never seen a beach with white sands or blue waters at that age. Galveston was all I knew, and I knew I loved it.
We filed out of the family Suburban one after another, barely able to contain our excitement as we sprinted to the jetty, a squall of sand stirring up in our dust. My brothers, sister, a sprawl of cousins, and I arrived for duty on the slick rock jetty stretching out into the murky waters. Our mission was simple: catch some crabs.
Chicken legs fastened to fishing wires, we dropped our bait just off the jagged edges of the jetty, and watched as the chicken sank slowly, hovering for a moment just beneath the surface of the water before vanishing out of sight. Slugging or limpid fishing wires behind us, bickering as children do, trying not to slip and fall into the shards of rock obscured by the water below us.
The “nothing is happening,” “I don’t think there are any crabs today,” “get off of my rock!” and various other squabbles were swallowed by the crashing of the waves and gusts of gulf winds, and then suddenly… a tug. I buried all of my focus under the faint flicker of light glimmering just beneath the surface, watching intently as the fishing line slowly straightened itself out. Slowly, then all at once, a repetitive jerking sensation resonated along the length of the wire, causing my hand to vibrate as though it was an extension of the bate.
“CRAB!!! I HAVE A CRAB!! MOM, MOM! DAD!!! LOOK!!!” Bellowed out of my tiny little belly, clinging to my makeshift fishing pole for dear life, clueless as to what actions I should take to procure my catch.
“Pull it up,” my Mom said with a casualty that can only be maintained by parents amused at the histrionics of a young child. I didn’t pull so much as yank the fishing wire vertically with a force that propelled the chicken out of the water, and dangling at my knees was not one, but two ravenous blue crabs nibbling away at the leg as water slid off of their hard shells, transforming into vapor as it collided with the July heat.
My Mom came over with a tennis raquet sized fishing net and lured the crabs into its mesh, their spindly legs and pinchers objecting to their mesh confines. It wasn’t long after that the whole troop of us had multiple crabs tugging at our lines, and the nets swelled with crabs and loose tufts of seaweed. After we had sufficiently wiped the jetty of its crab population, we piled back into our respective cars, giddy that the fruits of our labor would be dinner for the evening.
As we arrived back at the beach house, I nearly flew out of my seatbelt and sprinted to the deck to watch my Uncle Don examine and clean the day catches, releasing the pregnant females back into the bay, careful not to damage the swollen spongy burnt orange sacks clinging to their bellies. He worked with an ease and efficiency one could only posses after years of practice, and I watched in awe as he effortlessly skimmed through the crush of shells and meat.
When dinner came around, crab abounded in all its salty sweet glory, and everyone indulging in the feast thanked the crabbing crew for providing the delicacy. There was a sensation of satisfaction with which I became acquainted in that moment, knowing I had a hand in catching dinner for myself and the family. I felt accomplished, proud, and deserving of a second helping.
I often find myself transported back to those July Fourth crabbing excursions when I pass the local fishmongers at the Farmer’s Markets, the irrefutable scent of fresh seafood wafting through the air as I walk by. I take immense pleasure in the long leisurely chats I have with the fishmongers, watching as their sundrenched skin stretches and curls in passionate waves while they delight in conversing about their boats and territories, responsible fishing practices and marina politics. The respect they have for the water and the fish goes beyond a craft or a hobby; they are the caretakes of the ocean, at one with the sea and the creatures who inhabit it. The culinary liaisons between the water and land. Their excitement and passion reminds me of my own when I pulled my first catch out of the ocean. Only mine was a passing moment, eternally embedded as a childhood memory. Theirs a delicious, daily occurrence.
Perhaps one day I’ll leave New York and find myself quahogging and crabbing on a near daily basis. Or maybe I’ll stay put and drop all of my anchors in the city. Until those days come to fruition, I’ll happily frequent the local fish markets around New York and recall the sand speckled days of summer as a young girl, eager to lull crabs out of their beds, and feed the people I love.
Cajun Crab Cakes
- 1 Large Shallot Minced
- 1 Large Jalapeño Seeded, minced
- 1/2 Cup Mayonaise I use Sir Kensington or make my own
- 1 TBSP Worcestershire Sauce
- 1 TBSP Dijon Mustard
- 1.5 TBSP Fresh Parsley Minced
- 2 TSP Slap Ya Mama Spice (Old Bay can be used as a substitute)
- 1 Egg
- 1 LB Fresh Jumbo Lump Crab Meat
- 1 Cup French Baguette Fresh and roughly chopped
In a large mixing bowl, combine everything but the crab and bread, and stir well-about one minute.
In a separate bowl, combine crab cakes and fresh bread. Stir very carefully so as not to shred the crab (a lot of crab cake recipes call for bread crumbs, but I've found that fresh bread not only gives the crab cakes a much softer texture, it also soaks up a lot more flavor).
After the crab and bread is mixed together, carefully pour the wet ingredient mixture into the crab mixture, make sure that everything is completely incorporated. When everything is fully combined, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge for at least an hour.
When you're ready to make your crab cakes, melt butter or a high quality oil (olive, coconut, grapeseed etc...) on a nonstick skillet on medium-high heat. I prefer to use butter for these, but it doesn't really matter what you use.
While your pan is heating, using your hand, carefully scoop about a palm full of the crab mixture into your hand and shape the crab cakes. They will not come out in uniform balls, so if they're a little uneven and messy looking, that's perfectly fine.
Once you've shaped the crab cakes, put them directly into the pan and let them brown for about 3-4 minutes per side. Be VERY gentle when you flip them, as they come apart quite easily. I usually do this step in two batches, making 4 crab cakes at a time. But if you want to make several small crab cakes as an appetizer, you can make up as many as you can fit in the pan without overcrowding. When they are golden brown on the tops and bottoms, they're done.