Shucking a blue crab takes time and two hands. You sit there, picking out the little morsels of sweet lump crab between bits of shell and casing and time evaporates. Your fingers are caked in Old Bay — they’ll smell for a good day — and so there’s no chance you’ll reach for your phone to check something or idle over instagram. Instead, conversation ebbs and flows. A cicada’s buzz crescendoes, then abruptly disappears. Mosquitos nip at the ankles and elbows and beads of condensation drip down the side of your beer. It is hot and humid and the air swells thick around you — but you don’t much mind: you’ve grown up in this sticky-thick heat and it feels like home. Your husband and father-in-law are such die-hard fans of the Washington Nationals that they play the games over a small, dated radio with long rabbit ear antenna wedged into a boxwood bush right by the outdoor table around which you are all sprawled, some pausing from the feast to lean back and make a half-formed comment about the neighbors’ new addition, others reaching for a fresh crab. And so the crack of a ball hitting a bat, the muted roar of the crowd, the torpid song of cicadas, the rise and fall of conversation become the soundtrack to summer evenings spent around blue crabs in the mid-Atlantic. Your in-laws are such purists in the art of the blue crab that they refuse to serve anything alongside them — no potatoes, no bread, no hush puppies, no nothing. Just a bushel or two of blue crabs, the bigger and the later in the season the better, and little cups of malt vinegar and excess Old Bay to further dress the already deeply-seasoned steamed crabs. (“No self-respecting Virginian puts drawn butter on a blue crab,” I learned from them. Lobster, yes. King crab, yes. Blue crab, no.) You don’t use mallets — that’s for tourists. You use the dull edge of a knife to help with some aspects of separating and cleaning the shell, and crackers for the claws, but mainly it’s finger-work, and it’s learned and tedious and — in the way of all handiwork — vaguely therapeutic.
I am missing a blue crab dinner right now. I am missing all pastimes that happen out of doors and most especially with family. And man what I’d give for a freshly-steamed blue crab.
In absentia, a damn good substitute: a recipe from my mother-in-law that we’ve always called “BBQ shrimp,” but that is nearer in ethos to an indoor crab boil. We can’t be purists about this, though: you’ll need lots of crusty bread to soak up the pan juice. Aside from the bread, this can principally be made with items in your pantry, some bacon, and a big bag of frozen shrimp (all stuff that will keep well in the current situation — bacon freezes beautifully, too). It’s best eaten right out of the baking dish, possibly seated on the floor around a coffee table, with a couple cold beers and your significant other.
Preheat oven to 375. Fry three slices chopped bacon. Add two sticks butter, 2 tablespoons dijon mustard, 1.5 teaspoons chili powder, ¼ teaspoon dried basil, ¼ teaspoon dried thyme, 1 teaspoons pepper, ½ teaspoon dried oregano, 2 cloves crushed garlic, 2 tablespoons Old Bay, and ½ teaspoon Tabasco.
Place 1.5 pounds of shell-on shrimp in baking dish. Coat with sauce and bake 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve with crusty bread and paper towels.
P.S. Old Bay seasoning is a pantry staple for those of us from the mid-Atlantic, but you can order it on Amazon if you don’t have it on hand. It’s essential to the dish. It’s also great on roasted potatoes/fries and lots of fish/chicken dishes. I used to sneak it into everything, but I particularly remember spiking my homemade chex mix with it, much to the delight of my fellow Washingtonian friends.
What else are y’all cooking?!
+One thing this pandemic has taught us: resourcefulness in the kitchen and how to be even more organized around meal-planning. Food has been a bit challenging to come by in Manhattan. We are trying desperately not to leave our apartment but food delivery services are overburdened, and we’re lucky to get a delivery once every seven to ten days at the moment. I’m reminded of my former tremendous, gluttonous privilege in being able to stop by the grocery any time of day to pick up last minute ingredients or to idle over the produce section. And I consider us fairly well-practiced at planning ahead! This is how it happens, indeed…
+Mr. Magpie’s two quarantine splurges have been a new set of fancy speakers for our living room TV from Kef (he’s kind of an audio geek, and these are crazy fancy) and a Cuckoo rice cooker. I love him so much for deriving so much joy from these purchases — they really give you a window into his personality, don’t they?
+Urgent: this adorable Banjanan dress is only $117!!!
+Recent Amazon order: Bambas peanut puffs (both my children love these), a Frozen doll for mini (not slated to arrive until the end of the month and not sure when I’ll give this to her but she loves her Elsa doll so much that this will be just the best, greatest windfall of her life the day I decide she needs a special treat…which I’m estimating will be around the end of the month, when we will have been quarantined for over six weeks), left-handed children’s scissors for mini, Muji facial cotton (I’m normally a die-hard fan of Shiseido’s stuff, but had to try this per the rec of a reader!), and a second mini-cutting board, which sounds crazy but Mr. Magpie and I are nearly always competing for its use, as he’s nearly always prepping a cocktail and in need of a small cutting board for citrus and I’m nearly always prepping the children’s dinners, and need to dice things into small pieces.
+So in love with the print on these indoor/outdoor pillows! Look far more expensive than $28!
+Adore this fun clutch, especially with a LWD!
+OK, this $15 dress for a little one is too, too sweet. Love it in both colorways!
+A Staub cocotte is a must-have in our kitchen, used at least once a week I want to say? Maybe more often. Currently on insane sale for $100, down from $400+.
+The cutest nursing pillow covers — I got several from here for micro and mini. Love this and this in particular. I’m feeling wistful about this as just yesterday I was in Hill’s nursery and I realized I still have his Boppy in there and it should be tossed, because we haven’t used it for months. For awhile, I liked to feed him his bottles nestled in there, but no more. I also cannot bear to get rid of his wubbanubs though he hasn’t used those since he was maybe three months. Oh, I am a basket case about him getting older…
+My favorite red wine glasses are on sale here.