Green crab news: There is more to green crabs than stock, which I wrote about a few years ago. (For the horrifying green crab statistics, and for the stock recipe, here is that original piece:
But there is green crab news. Many people are thinking about them, from state-funded studies at UMass to private citizens like Roger Warner, who wrote the Boston Globe piece about these biblical plague. For one, scientists and interested food people are trying to figure out how best to identify soft shell green crabs in the hopes of creating a culinary market that may rival the Maryland blue crab. (And to undermine the freakish rate at which green crabs reproduce.)
This goal remains elusive, but you can find more information on this crew’s green crab go-fund-me page:
A Venetian crab fisherman, Paolo Tagliapietra, visited Jonathan Taggart of Georgetown, Maine this summer and introduced a Venetian method of controlling this species: masanete.
(mazzanette, masenete, masanette, masanètes) “Masanete
” is the name for the female green crab. In the fall, her little body is filled with roe. Apparently, this Venetian crab fisherman taught Taggart that this roe is delicious, beloved so well by Venetians. they have a festival for it, Sagra da las Masenetes.
(Jonathan Taggart has also come the closest, with the help of Tagliapietra, of understanding the green crab’s molting cycle.)
Roger Warner came to my house with a load of cooked crabs, and taught me about masanete and the roe easily extracted from them.
(Here is a quick green crab fact summary: green crabs (Carcinus maenas) have the pathetic acclaim of being included in the world’s 100 most invasive species. They first arrived on U.S. shores as ballast from ships leaving France and Spain, warmer European waters, in the early 19th century. Those crabs landed in New England, ate up their share of soft shell clams, but were controlled by a cold winter. A season of frigid temperatures would decimate the green crabs, and allow the clams – and mussels, urchins, eelgrass, everything else in these small monsters’ way – a reprieve. Clammers once believed that the clams loved cold temperatures, but actually it was simply the fact that the green crabs didn’t, that resulted in a mast year for clams following a harsh winter.
In the 1990’s a second brand of green crabs arrived on U.S. shores, probably also as ballast, from the colder Norwegian waters. These crabs fared better in cold climates, and bred with those green crabs already settled here, creating a monstrously hardy species that eats everything in its way. No one has really determined whether or not the green crab has a predator. Wild mussels in New England have almost all been destroyed by green crabs. Green crabs have also destroyed many hundreds of acres of eel grass from Maine to Rhode Island. As eelgrass is important spawning grounds for groundfish, some people credit this environmental destruction with contributing to the collapse of the ground fish industry.)
As of November, 2016, soft shell (Mya arenaria) clams have two friends – the clammers who make a living from them and the winter of 2014-15. The clammers do everything they can to protect soft shell clams from green crabs, covering the beds in nets, but the brutal winter of 2014-15 finally brought the green crabs to their knees. The following summer saw clam flats almost free of green crabs for the first time in years. This past summer (2016) when that “recruitment” matured (recruitment refers to the year’s seedlings), clammers were dancing in the flats. The green crabs were not around to eat the seedlings of the 2015 summer, so those clams were allowed to mature to this year’s bounty.
But, the green crabs have returned and they are mad and hungry. This year’s recruitment will be seriously compromised by a new generation of large, virile crabs.
Here is something to consider. I recently asked why restaurants are not more concerned about green crabs destroying their fried clam plates. I was told that many restaurants are simply purchasing imported clams from their distributors. These business’s problems are easily solved, so they feel no impact from this invasive crustacean. Now, you really can’t blame a business for simply trying to solve their problems. My complaint is that by purchasing imported clams, and leaving the clam rolls and clam plates on the menu, the consumer is that much more removed from this truly biblical plague. No one realizes there is ever a problem because the fried clams have never left the menu, except those might be Indonesian clams, not Essex.
SO, let’s eat them. While considering finding female green crabs and celebrating their delicious roe, remember this: you are eating the next generation of green crabs. Eating the eggs, means diminishing the next generation of green crabs. As a tool to impact this devastating species, eating their roe is actually the most effective.
If you can find yourself some green crabs – (Contact Roger Warner at the above website; he can lead you to them.) – first throw them in a bucket of fresh water and rinse the sand out from them. Give the bucket a few stirs, and get them moving.
Then separate the males from the females (masanetes). Both male and female tummies have a pyramid shape on them. The female pyramid is wider, and has a little “blip” on the top of it.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the females when the water is rolling. Cook them for about 10 minutes. Drain, and cool until you can handle them.
Meanwhile, if you are making stock, which you can do with the males, follow the directions in the original recipe, or simply bring a new pot of water to a boil. Add the males, and cook for twenty minutes. You can also add the female shells, once you have picked them of their roe and meat. Simmer that for a good half-hour or so. Even without the stock recipe, you will acquire a nice oceany-flavored broth.
To pick the females, do this: Locate the large top shell of the crab, not hard to do. Put your fingernails under the widest side of that shell, and flip it back. Hold that large, oval shell now upside down in your palm, take the wide end of a chop stick or a small spoon, and shovel out all the orange roe tucked in the inside of this shell. Most of it will be at one side of the shell. Spoon the roe into a small bowl. There will be other “stuff” with it; that’s ok. Pick out anything slightly hard, as that might be the gills.
Now, pick up the remaining body of the crab. Identify that pyramid, which determined the sex of the crab, and pull that back starting at the narrow end. By removing this pyramid, you will expose a small cavity in the crab’s body. With that wide end of the chop stick again, poke it into the cavity, and use it to flip out all the roe. There should be more roe here than in the top shell. Spoon this all into the bowl.
You are basically going for the roe, but you will get other crab contents, too, and all that is ok. It doesn’t exactlly look like “meat;” it is sometimes dark and goopy, but therein flavor lies. The good news is you are not trying to tediously needle out miniscule amounts of crab from the tiny legs. The idea of doing that is what has made green crab meat appear like a fool’s errand.
This roe and other stuff on the other hand, is relatively easy and satisfying to remove. I cleaned about 50 crabs the other day, yielding a solid cup of roe, et al, in about 20 minutes. Today I cleaned 20 crabs in 10 minutes, yielding a 1/2 cup, and plenty to make the following recipe.
Roger’s wife, Sook Bin, sautéed her roe with garlic, capers and lemon, and tossed it over pasta. I suspect this was delicious.
I made taramosalata. Taramosalata is a Greek or Turkish spread made with leftover bread or potatoes and salted or cured roe, dressed with an acid like lemon or vinegar. The green crab roe has an earthier quality than the salty roe normally associated with taramosalata, but it still works beautifully with the bread and lemon.
Green Crab Taramosalata
Makes about 2 cups
Ingredients 8 ounces bread – any kind of white, crusty bread, Italian or French, roughly chopped
1/2 cup mix of roe and meat – the masanete – from the female green crabs
1 small onion, grated
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup olive oil plus more for drizzling on top
salt and pepper
pinch red pepper flakes
- Put the bread in a medium bowl, and pour cold water over it. Drain immediately, and squeeze the excess water out of the bread.
- Put the bread in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the roe and onion, and process lightly. Slowly pour in the lemon juice and olive oil, allowing the bread to slowly integrate the olive oil. Taste for both lemon juice and salt, salt and pepper. Add red pepper flakes, and taste again.
- Remove to a bowl, and smooth out the top of the spread. Drizzle some olive oil over all. Serve with crackers, celery, radish, and carrots. This can be made 2-3 hours in advance. Store in the refrigerator, but take out 15 minutes before serving so it is not super cold.