Thursday, July 23, 2009

Crabs: Callinectes Sapides, Central American style

Such a surprise! The crab that is Maryland's icon lives here in Guatemala too, and I'm pretty sure it's our very own "beautiful swimmer" "savory".
You'll see lines of styrofoam chunks floating in the Rio, which I thought were for fish, but flat wire baskets are what come up. Looks more like lobster hooping than Maryland-style crabbing.

It's clear that crabbing is not a major industry here. I'm looking for an informant (Doug calls them 'victims') to explain the process to me. What, for example, is used for bait?

These cangrejos are used to flavor a delicious local specialty, tapado, a soup made with whatever other seafood is available, and some vegetables, in a coconut milk broth. Magnifique! I order it every time I see it.

Yesterday in a pizza place in Fronteras, I was shown a platter of crabs. They had had their aprons removed, and their "faces" cut off, but their backs hadn't been peeled open, so they presumably still had their lungs and 'guts' inside.

If I understood rightly (I only asked about three times), they were about to be fried in oil. Frito? Si. I aciete? Si. So stunned by that idea, (the oil! the splatter!) I never even asked: what then?

Now that the concept has settled a little in my mind - oil is just another form of heat - people fry turkeys and boil crabs, after all - I'm left to wonder: do you pick the meat out? Is the crab full of oil? Munch through the whole thing, shell and all? Elizabeth, holding the tray, looked equally astonished when I told her about the Old Bay seasoning and the steam. Sure is interesting being a clueless tourist!

But I want to try whatever it is. I think I've got to paddle out and visit a crabber some morning, to buy some crabs to cook Maryland style, and then get the pizza people to do a compare-and-contrast 'cangrejo cook-off'.

Update: I ordered crab soup in a restaurant the other day (actually, here's it's called, not cangrejo, but jaiba. This is what came:

As you can see, it's a thin broth with a vegetable base - the crabs were boiled in it, then removed, and crabs. I was supposed to eat the crabs as I slurped at the broth. I was supplied with a nut cracker. My question about the lungs brought the response: we eat them. Everything that is dirty has already been removed. So, I tried the lungs, but found no reason to add them to my diet. And the waitress was quite amused when I eventually pulled out all the meat I could get at (it's so hard not to spit the little bits of shell!), added it to the soup, then slurped.

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