Help me make a delicious crab boil, please.
November 3, 2012 11:52 PM   Subscribe

I am throwing a crab boil! Wait…how do I throw a crab boil?

My friends and I are throwing a crab boil in Seattle next week. I've seen recipes that call for potatoes and ones that don't, ones that involve heads of garlic and ones that don't, ones that involve everything getting boiled, and ones that involve a giant pot but not too much water, resulting in most things just being steamed. What do we do? (I read this thread, but it didn't quite have the level of detail I am looking for. You can't put all the food in the pot at the same time, right? Don't potatoes take way longer to cook than crabs? SO MANY QUESTIONS.)

Is there an ideal way to do this? Should we do crabs, or other shellfish? Is it better with a variety of seafood, or just one kind? What have been some of your successful or perhaps unsuccessful variations on the [sea creature] boil? Do you pick the kind of sausage you boil based on the seafood you're using, or is there a gold-standard encased meat for all boils?

Most of my go-to food and recipe blogs don't seem to have covered the ins and outs of crab boils, so I'm also desperate for online resources you've found particularly helpful. Bring unto me your crab know-how so that I may turn it into a crowd-pleasing feast!
posted by Charity Garfein to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
You can't really screw up a crab boil. Have plenty of newspapers, and tell folks to wear old clothes.
posted by trip and a half at 11:58 PM on November 3, 2012

You put the potatoes at the bottom and cover them with water, and prop all the other stuff on top. So the crabs etc get steamed and the potatoes get boiled. Pick smaller potatoes that will get cooked through, or cut them into appropriately sized chunks. If you are extra worried about the potatoes, you can even put them back in little while - crab boils are super informal and people will be primarily concerned with the crabs before they take a potato break, anyway. You can even zap them in the microwave beforehand.

Pick a sausage that will keep its shape, but defer to freshness and quality when possible. If you are using a lot more spice then pick a less spicy sausage, and vice versa.

I've had yummy versions of this meal including lobster (my father's family is from Maine), clams, oysters, prawns, crawfish, different kinds of crabs at once, and even scallops (in the shell, very impressive looking). For sausage I've had things ranging from a mild chicken and sage to a spicy chorizo. It's all been delicious. Garlic is a pretty strong flavor but I love it in everything. If your sausage has garlic (everything Spanish will, for example) then use garlic in the boil while you're at it. If you're using more subtly flavored components like oysters and clams, maybe keep it light on the garlic and seasonings. It's really difficult to screw it up, though. This is a style of meal that has a regional version basically everywhere you go. Just remember that the steam will continue cooking things after you take it off the heat. So don't worry about things being underdone until you've given them a bit to cool off.

When you cover your table with newspaper, quarter a bunch of lemons and leave them scattered around. The heat of the boil on top of the lemons will make them very juicy and easy to squeeze. Also give everybody a whole fabric tea towel and if someone shows up in fancy clothes, give them a shirt to cover up with.
posted by Mizu at 12:38 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Google Martha Stewart Crab Boil and you'll find a bunch of recipes and videos. She really is the queen of this type of entertaining - it's very New England Summer House.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 4:43 AM on November 4, 2012

My neighbor threw a crab boil a few weeks ago. He set up long tables, covered in newspaper, folding chairs, a beverage station (ice chests and tubs of sodas and beer) and simply set big bowls of finished crabs on each table so that folks could just dive in.

David Rosengarten's information on staging a Maryland crab feast may be a help (it's adapted from his cookbook, "It's All American Food"). I can confidently and enthusiastically recommend his crab spice:

Here's how to make your own spice powder for crabs:

Baltimore Spice
Makes enough to spice 24 crabs

1 cup Old Bay seasoning
1/2 cup kosher salt
2 tablespoons ground ginger
2 tablespoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon powdered mustard
1 tablespoon whole yellow mustard seed
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

1. Place all of the ingredients into a small mixing bowl. Use a fork to combine them into a homogeneous spice blend. Use immediately or store, covered well, for six months.

Folks raved about that particular batch of crabs -- so much more interesting than a straight Old Bay treatment.

It might be too informal for your purposes, but I wish my neighbor had plonked down some tubs of baby wipes, which are the perfect tool for cleaning crab-sticky hands. Have fun!
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:44 AM on November 4, 2012

Best answer: Here's my recipe on my website. This is making me hungry; maybe we'll cook some tonight!
posted by Kronur at 5:47 AM on November 4, 2012

if you choose blue crabs (not in season from Maryland this time of year), please do not boil them, but instead steam them.
posted by jindc at 6:11 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

As jindc says, steam is better! For a really good crab steam, use a mix of regular beer (not light) and water.

For the table:
A layer of cardboard - cut up a box or two keeps your table from getting scratched up
A layer of plastic - slit a large garbage bag on 1 side & the bottom
Layers of newspaper - avoid the colored ad sections if you can - some of those inks can run.
A roll of absorbent paper towels - if you have something like this it will keep the rest of the towels clean but you can also just put the roll on the table
A knife- the knife here is excellent for crab picking but it would be an investment you may not want to make. Visit Goodwill and pick up some used knives - just look for a halfway decent edge.
A mallet - the reason you don't want to use your everyday knives for this as the best crab eating technique includes striking the back edge of the knife to get into the claw shells.

Once you are done eating, take one edge of the plastic and roll up the mess then place in another plastic bag. Table is clean again.

Before you start, cover stuff people might touch with dirty hands (like your door knobs or faucet knobs) with sandwich bags secured rubber bands. If you plan on having a TV on or needing to use your phone . . . put the remote and your phone in bags too. It's better than trying scrub crabby Old Bay scum off of stuff.
posted by jaimystery at 6:19 AM on November 4, 2012

Mallets suck. Use the back handle of your bread knife. More weight=easier breaking of shells.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:51 AM on November 4, 2012

Everyday knives are fine for this. You're breaking shell, not diamond.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:52 AM on November 4, 2012

Oh, and use a crab rack. Otherwise the bottom layer of crabs are a watery mess.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:54 AM on November 4, 2012

Yes you should do potatoes. But you want red bliss potatoes -- they're small enough that they'll get cooked through, and have a flavor that pairs better with a crab boil. We also did half-ears of corn and bratwurst.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:25 AM on November 4, 2012

I guess this is cheating, but I always have my seafood store cook my crabs for me. I pick them up still warm, in cardboard boxes lined with newspaper.

The other stuff, I cook myself. I make a boil of shrimp, potatoes, corn on the cob, butter and old bay seasoning.

The table gets covered in plastic trash bags (the big black kind, torn up at the seams) first and then newspaper. Dishes of melted butter and bottles of apple cider vinegar dress the table, along with rolls of paper towels.

Don't forget the beer and cider!
posted by dchrssyr at 10:42 AM on November 4, 2012

My sister followed her West Coast wedding and reception with an East Coast reception, so more of the groom's family could join, as well as the east coastal friends of the our own family. The reception was a park with a crab boil.

Each guest received the usual protection from food splattering, and there were copious paper towels for getting the Old Bay Seasoning off one's hands, but best of all, everyone got a cheap wooden mallet (for claw-cracking) which had, on the handle, the names of the bride and groom and the dates of the wedding and reception. No idea where they had those made-- I think the groom's family was behind it, but it was frankly inspired. It also remains, over a decade later, the only mallet in my sister's kitchen. A cursory google search indicates that they'll run you around $4 at most, with the price dropping as the volume increases.
posted by Sunburnt at 5:02 PM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: We used Kronur's recipe, threw in a bunch of different kinds of shellfish (thanks to a fabulous fish monger), make some cheese biscuits, and it was the best damn meal I've ever cooked. TRIUMPH!
posted by Charity Garfein at 6:24 PM on December 13, 2012

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