Recipe and article contributed by C. Jodlowski.
We stood on the shore, casting and reeling. Casting and reeling. No catching. Just casting and reeling. Mid-August on the Massachusetts coast is to fishing what early July is to the rest of the sports world – an annual dead spot in which there are good memories behind and exciting action yet to come – and very little going on in the current moment. But we were on vacation and we’re intrepid souls and hoped we might trip up an over-eager snapper blue and dreamt of an errant Bonito or early Albie.
My son, who’s yet to embrace the often vast chasm between “fishing” and “catching” grew bored and wandered across the sand behind us to explore the shallow pools and harass the tidal life at the terminus of a long bay. Every so often I’d look back and see him walking slowly or perched still, net in hand.
After a while I heard him come up behind us and stop to tell his mother “I caught a crab.”
“That’s nice, honey. Make sure you put him back before we leave,” she said with interest that’s been tempered by 20+ years of hearing me make similar oddball presentations. Between me and my boys, she has a combined total of 46 years of experience tempering the attention we seek with our stunts. He could have had it dangling by its claws from his eyelids and she would have casually suggested “Just be careful, honey.”
Perhaps in sympathy, someone else in our group foolishly took the bait.
“Oh, that’s a big one”
But she immediately stuck the same pin in his balloon of enthusiasm.
“Make sure you put him back before he dies.”
The part about “the big one” got my interest, as I wasn’t having any luck with the big ones – or the little ones – of my own. He saw me turn and brought his crab down to me. And what he had wasn’t just a crab. It was a big blue crab. My buddy Chip, 100 feet up the shoreline gave an inquisitive nod my way.
“Blue crab” I yelled back.
His eyes widened a bit. I knew what he was thinking and he knew I knew. And now my son knew.
“Can we eat it?”
“Well, we’ll need more than one. There’s 14 people.”
With no further discussion, he filled a bucket with seawater, plunked the crab into it and sped back to bay, net in hand. Fifteen minutes later he was standing by my side with another, slightly smaller crab.
“Can we eat them?”
“We need more, bud.”
But I knew where this was going. He was asking “can we eat them” but what he meant was “can I eat them.” And I was on board with him. Generally I love sharing my gathered bounty. But this kid was on a mission to get – and eat – crab. And he was hustling to get it done.
Over the course of the afternoon, he collected a total of 15 crabs through sheer perseverance. Hour by hour he wandered the shore. When it came time to leave, he had Chip and me on his side, lobbying to bring them home as we conjured ideas of what great things we could create with each new crab he brought in.
Granted, 15 crabs still isn’t nearly enough to feed 14 people. What it is, though, is enough to feed 14 people something that contains crab.
One of my favorite things to do on vacation is make a chowder from quahogs that were neck deep in mud just hours ago. I watch the tides, plan my trip, gather ingredients and time my morning – preferably a rainy one – so that everything comes together for lunch as the clock strikes noon. This year, however, our clams had spent an evening with linguini instead, so my chowder jones kept on. Now here I was with small bucket of crabs, a need to stretch them and no scheduled treks to the market.
I dug around the kitchen and using only what we had lying about, I added, pinched, dashed, tasted… and added more. Grilled corn from dinner a few nights ago, a couple carrots that were becoming strangely flexible, the few potatoes that didn’t make the cut for the potato salad and the conglomeration of jars of herbs and spices orphaned by renters past. Little by little I clawed my way toward a chowder base worthy of enveloping the hard-earned and picked-over blue crab meat. And in doing so, I realized, I’d conjured what’s eluded me in the past – the true spirit of a chowder. The most Yankee of all ingenuities – to take only what’s available and create something that is far and above, greater than the sum of its parts.
Blue Crab Chowder
- A dozen or so blue crabs, steamed and picked. (Reserve the steaming water and shells)
- ¼ lbs. bacon
- 2 medium onions, diced
- 2 carrots, diced
- 1 lbs. potatoes, diced
- 2 cups of corn kernels
- 1 quart whole milk
- 1 stick of butter
- ½ cup of flour
- 2 t dried thyme
- Ground white pepper
- Steam the crabs, allow them to cool and then crack and pick them over, setting the meat aside and reserving the shells.
- Put all of the shells into a large pot, add the original steaming water then add more cold water to cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat and let it simmer for 2 hours, being careful not to dry-boil the pot. Turn off the heat and allow to cool, then pour the liquid through a strainer into a new pot. Return the stock to the heat and reduce down to 2 quarts.
- Start the chowder by cutting the bacon into quarter inch pieces and add to a large pot. Render the bacon, then remove half of it to a paper towel. Add the onion to the bacon and grease and cook until it becomes soft. Add the carrots and potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil and cook until the potatoes and carrots are tender.
- While the chowder is heating: Heat the milk over low heat. Melt 1 stick of butter in a 2 quart pot, then whisk in the flour a little at a time to make a roux. When all of the flour and butter have been incorporated together, continue whisking for another 5 minutes. Using a ladle, add a little bit of the hot milk to the butter and flour and continue to whisk. It should be absorbed quickly and turn into a thick gloppy mixture. As the milk is absorbed, add more one ladle at a time until it’s all incorporated. The mixture should now be thick and smooth.
- Whisk the flour, butter and milk mixture into the chowder pot, then add the corn, the thyme and salt and white pepper to taste. Turn off the heat and stir in the crab meat. Serve in a bowl with a little bit of the reserved bacon on top.
About the Author
Chris came to hunting later in life than most, but over the last 20 years he’s developed it from pastime to passion to way of life. He now hunts and cooks just about everything a season will allow and is always looking for the next adventure. Along with hunting, he fishes and wanders New York’s Hudson Valley and beyond gathering wild and regionally grown produce, living his belief that the very best food is local food. He enjoys spending time outdoors with his boys, teaching them self-reliance and sharing with them the joy of sitting down to a well-earned meal.