Pretty Good for a Bad Day
How good cooking transformed a famine of crabs to a feast
It was 6:30am, and we were already over an hour late getting on the water. A tenuous weather report the previous night made us hesitate making the last of our preparations until morning to be certain we were clear of any thunderstorms.
My 14-year-old son, Rob, was busy in the bow rearranging our bulky gear as the outboard burbled its way through the no-wake zone. Crabbing is an equipment-laden adventure.
I steered with one hand and tossed the crab gloves up front to Rob. He’s been my regular crab netter and culler since he was six.
It was hardly any distance at all to the spot we intended to set our trotline, and I was relieved to find it vacant of other crabbers though one showed up not two minutes after we began to set our line.
A good omen, I thought at the time. Luck comes in streaks.
Our first run netted only two crabs, though both sizeable and heavy. The next run produced two more of similar bulk; these were accompanied by a host of much smaller crabs hanging on to our baits.
The following runs resulted in lots more of the undersized crabs. I worried that the half chicken necks on our snoods might be nibbled to nothing before we could manage to get our keepers. Succeeding efforts gave us scant improvement; only two more jimmies went into the basket.
I also observed the second crabber, who had set up a generous distance from our line farther out in the river. He was working about 20 traps, and it looked like he wasn’t doing any better. I didn’t see a single crab go into his boat in an hour.
At 8am, we needed to decide whether to stick it out, hoping for improvement, or move the line to a new location. We chose to move.
Even so, it did not get better. It got worse. By 10am, we still had only the six crabs in the basket. The general rule in crabbing is if you haven’t got it done by 10am, you’re not going to do it at all. Dispirited, we pulled the line and headed home.
Rob was let down, for he had hoped for a feast. As we motored back to the ramp, he picked up our basket and suggested we return our few crabs to the water.
“No, don’t throw them back,” I said. “Let me try something with those. I don’t want the morning to be a total waste. Besides, we need something for lunch.”
Rob flashed me a look of teenaged skepticism.
An Imperial Recovery
Back at home, I threw the six large jimmies into a covered steamer, turned on the stove then scooted back outside to hose down the boat and trailer. When I returned to the kitchen 20 minutes, they were done. I set them aside to cool as we resettled from our luckless morning.
A short time later the gear was stowed, and I had the crabs picked and a few odds and ends gathered.
“What’s for lunch?” Rob asked, returning from his end of the chores.
“I need you to chop up these three green onions and sauté them in butter with that crab meat,” I said. “Try not to break up the big lumps.”
Rob’s been an avid cook for some time now, and I never hesitate to enlist his aid in a new project.
Meanwhile, I converted a half-cup of pancake mix into something more crepe-like by adding melted butter, a teaspoon of powdered sugar, two eggs and a generous pour of milk.
As I made two large, thin pancakes on our griddle, I instructed Rob to add a little dusting of flour to the skillet of crabmeat he now had sizzling. Then he added a tablespoon of chopped pimento we had found in the fridge. Next he carefully stirred in two heaping tablespoons of mayonnaise and some paprika, salt and fresh ground black pepper.
Easing the thin crepes onto two warm dinner plates, I heaped his steaming crab mixture over half of each one and folded them. Setting them down on the table with mugs of ice water, we both dug in.
“This is really, really great,“ Rob mumbled through a mouthful of crab “What’s it called?”
“It’s our version of a French crepe filled with crab imperial,” I replied.
“Imperial, huh. Like the food they used to give to kings, right?”
“Right,” I replied. “Pretty good for a bad day crabbing, isn’t it?”