I grew up in Maryland. My husband-to-be hails from Louisiana. Though our hometowns were quite different, one thing unites both states: seafood. We both grew up digging into hard-shell crabs on tables spread with butcher paper, learning as young tykes how to extract as much meat as possible from each one. But that’s where the seafood similarity ends. We happened to visit both families on back-to-back weekends this summer, which presented the perfect opportunity for a regional crab smackdown.
The first time my fiancé experienced a Maryland crab feast, he was confused. “What are these for?” he asked, holding up a small wooden mallet. That’s what we Chesapeake Bay devotees use to crack crabs, along with a pointy-ended plastic knife to help get the meat out of every nook and cranny. In Louisiana, they use metal crackers. In my neck of the woods, those are exclusively for lobster and would never grace the table at a crab feast.
Then there’s the question of seasoning. Old Bay is Maryland’s pride and joy. A generous amount of this regional seasoning is heaped over any pile of freshly boiled crabs, and it also seasons the cooking water. While heavy-handed seasoning is a trademark of Louisiana cuisine, strangely enough, their crabs are not as flavorful. They’re cooked in water with special “seafood boil” seasoning mix, but nothing is dumped on top of the cooked crabs like I’m used to. Thus, the Louisiana seafood boil is a little less messy.
What about the quality of the crabs themselves? I find the Maryland blue crab meat a little sweeter, more delicate. But as my fiancé would counter — and unfortunately, he’s right — many of the crabs served up in Maryland these days come from Louisiana. If you’re eating crabs on the Chesapeake in the off-season, chances are they didn’t swim in the water you’re looking at, but came from the Gulf of Mexico.
Next consideration: What’s on the seafood spread in addition to crabs? Peel-and-eat shrimp are common in both locations. Corn on the cob is, too. But in Louisiana you get crawfish — pounds and pounds of the little guys. This forgives the lack of Old Bay in my book — once I got the technique down, I became an addict. For more on that, check out our Southern expert Nealey Dozier’s post on How to Host a Crawfish Boil.
Where do your crab loyalties lie?