15 May2014

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When I was about 14 years old, my sister and her family used to make a “pilgrimage” to Baltimore from New York once every summer or so (when I happened to be in New York on holiday) to get some Maryland style steamed crab. Phillips Seafood was the restaurant of choice (though we later stopped at crab shacks in little nooks or dead ends in Maryland crab country) and they would spread paper on a large table, bring you a bucket of crab encrusted with “Old Bay” seasoning and you would attack this bounty with little wooden mallets and your bare hands. It was barbarically good. We used to ask for some cider vinegar to dip our crab in and it was an UTTERLY UNFORGETTABLE FOOD experience. Things were a lot simpler then (what?, 35+ years ago!) but the crab was spectacular.

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It’s a little known fact that Bantayan is an epicenter of blue crab processing, and they now pick and can crab for several venerable brands (apparently, including Phillips of Maryland!) for export around the world. They typically only use the lump crab meat, and all the other bits and pieces are sold locally by the kilo. I never got to the packing plants (just didn’t have enough time and one day was a Sunday to boot) but we do source a lot of crab meat from Bantayan for our dishes at Zubuchon. At any rate, when our contacts on the island asked if we wanted anything, I asked if they could get some alimasag or blue crab and they presented me with this enormous palanggana or pail filled with 20+ kilos of the most amazing alimasag just minutes after we arrived! JACKPOT!!! At just PHP190 a kilo ($2 a pound!) I was utterly giddy with excitement. GIDDY. I had packed a large container of Old Bay seasoning into our luggage, a bottle of cider vinegar, two bottles of Heinekin (only maartè beer because it had expired the week before and couldn’t be served) and some experimental zubu salt (hand harvested sea salt that we baked and ground ourselves) and a large steamer. It was my hope that I could approximate those Maryland crab meals from decades ago (and which I note from their on-line menu no longer exists the way we ate them)…

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Into the base of a large steamer add about roughly 2 inches depth of water. Add the contents of two bottles of beer, a couple of glugs of cider vinegar and some freshly squeezed lemon juice (half a lemon will suffice). Set that over a burner set on the highest intensity, cover and wait for the liquid to just about come to a boil. Meanwhile rinse the crabs with some water, leaving their shells wet. Douse them (not sprinkle, douse) with lots and lots of Old Bay Seasoning (made up of ground fennel seed, paprika, salt, etc.) and some nice sea salt. Make sure to cover both the tops and bottoms of the crab shells and lay them in one or two levels of your steamer. Cover and steam for some 20 minutes or so, depending on the size of the crab. If you are cooking a LOT of crab, it may take up to 25 minutes or so.

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Serve straight out of the steamer. In Baltimore, I don’t think they had a “sawsawan” per se, so consider this the pinoy twist. Take a dish, add some cider vinegar and a sprinkling of old bay seasoning (or scrape some of the crust from crabs with the spices into the vinegar) and add some salt and cracked black pepper if you like. Chopped chilies would be a nice addition as well. Then cover your body with a large plastic bag or old bed sheet and get cracking!

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The crab in Bantayan was SWEET. So fresh, so light and so utterly delicious. Honestly, better than what I remember our Baltimore crab meals to be. And the spice was just right. The dipping sauce perfect. We went through crab after crab after crab. No rice, just pure fresh crab meat! If this was the only thing I had for lunch that day, I bet I could have motored through 2 kilos of blue crab on my own!

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This was what one of our plates looked like after the crab, and that’s after a full seafood lunch described in the previous post!

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At another table, another plate — gosh it was a mess but a delicious mess! The price of this feast under normal conditions would be prohibitive (think fresh crab in Manila at PHP400-500 a kilo plus restaurant mark-ups) but in Bantayan that day, it was an affordable luxury that we will only experience every decade or so… :)

 

COMMENTS:

  1. La Emperor says:

    The last plate reminded me of my growing up days in Manila. I would make a mess similar to that and would usually be the last one to stand up from the family table when alimasag was served. That was my fav along with alupihang dagat.

    I could just imagine the excitement of the buds at every dip on that cider..;) the best.

    May 15, 2014 | 4:34 am

     
  2. Ariel Nievera says:

    when i worked in virginia i used to buy a bushel from the wharf in Washington DC. I get the medium size

    May 15, 2014 | 5:29 am

     
  3. Sleepless in Seattle says:

    Humongous blue crab!! My appetite is on the high gear to hunt for the freshest blue crab . We get a lot of shipment of blue crab here in Wa. To our local 99 ranch alive,but we are vacationing in Vegas,just have to settle for king crab legs for now :-(

    May 15, 2014 | 6:55 am

     
  4. tonceq says:

    Question of the curious. Did you use McCormick’s or did you make your own “old bay” seasoning ? I’m interested in emulating this dish but I have not seen (or heard) of the seasoning up until now. Thank you! :)

    May 15, 2014 | 7:20 am

     
  5. Footloose says:

    @Tonceq, not to preempt MM’s reply, here’s the list of ingredients on McCormick’s tin: Salt, celery seeds, mustard, red pepper, black pepper, bay leaf, cloves, allspice, ginger, mace, cardamon, cinnamon and paprika. I picked this up along with a gallon tub of unformed crab cake in Baltimore ages ago. Used it only once; we preferred the crab cakes with our own Asian blend of seasoning.

    Unless you have access to a spice store with open bins and you can buy a little of this and a bit of that, you’re better off buying the tin containing the proprietary blend.

    May 15, 2014 | 7:51 am

     
  6. Marketman says:

    tonceq, bought the prepared spice mix, it’s exactly the taste I was looking for… I have tried to replicate the mixture at home (predominantly celery seeds/celery salt and paprika) but it didn’t quite come out right… If you have relatives in the states, they can get you the spice mix in almost any good grocery. They do have it on offer in some Manila groceries, VERY RARELY.

    May 15, 2014 | 9:21 am

     
  7. ami says:

    Probably the most memorable food experience I had in the US was eating crabs in Maryland exactly as how you described it. A wonderful bonding experience with our american relatives. Too bad crabs are expensive here in the PH for us to duplicate the same concept.

    May 15, 2014 | 10:01 am

     
  8. Betchay says:

    I dont know but I find our Philippine crabs sweeter and tastier than any other crabs in the world! Just rock salt added to the steaming process and I am in heaven!

    May 15, 2014 | 11:08 am

     
  9. Marketman says:

    ami, actually, pound for pound, the U.S. blue crabs are 2-3x more expensive in peso/dollar terms, it’s just that the relative income levels are higher in the U.S. I just googles fresh blue crab prices and they are roughly $20 per kilo or so, 4-5x more than Bantayan, and double or so Manila markets…

    May 15, 2014 | 11:46 am

     
  10. mylene espina says:

    No wonder the rellenong crabs at Zubuchon (near the IT park) were so good…. it had a sweetish taste and really worth the price. MM, I must also commend the service – they were very efficient and eager to let us taste whatever we found interesting on the menu. I can’t recall the name of the male server but the female server’s name was Tara. They even told us how long we’d have to wait for a dish to arrive and then asked if it was ok for us to wait that long – of course, we were willing to wait….we had a great meal at Zubuchon, Thanks!

    May 15, 2014 | 2:18 pm

     
  11. Anna Banana says:

    oh my! Bantayan Island is now on my list of to-go places just to have that seafood experience!

    Wait, is that aligue on the 6th picture? Yummy!

    May 15, 2014 | 2:30 pm

     
  12. ConnieC says:

    Is that you MM digging into the crabs with a spoon and fork? Shame on you!:)
    When you are eating crabs, you got to be down and dirty!!! like we do in Maryland.

    Sadly , with the decline in crab population in the U.S. from over harvesting and climate change, crabs have to be imported from overseas but they are passed on as Maryland blue crabs.

    May 15, 2014 | 9:58 pm

     
  13. rp says:

    yum.

    May 15, 2014 | 11:30 pm

     
  14. Getter Dragon 1 says:

    Totally worth the pruney fingers.

    May 16, 2014 | 2:14 am

     
  15. Malou says:

    Wow, I didn’t know Phillips imported their crab all the way from Pinas! I suspected they were supplementing from other sources (thinking VA or FL) but not half a world away.

    We are about 3 hours away from MD and we try to go once a year for crabcakes. A friend once brought us to a restaurant called G&M and truly their jumbo lump crabcakes were ginormous! Parang one-cup rice ang laki!

    May 16, 2014 | 2:26 am

     
  16. Marketman says:

    ConnieC, hahaha, I was wondering who would catch that anomaly. Yes, I started off tasting the first crab with utensils and quickly shifted to all hands like Conan the Barbarian… :)

    May 16, 2014 | 7:20 am

     
  17. greens & blossoms says:

    When my son was based in Bar Harbor, Maine, he bought a pack of crab meat in the grocery and got the shock of his life when label read : product from the Philippines

    May 16, 2014 | 1:12 pm

     
  18. Sister says:

    Shades of the good old days. Last week in VA the relatives mentioned that they bring a pot of rice to the crab shacks and order the steamed crabs. The best ones we had were in Christfield and maybe we can make another field trip in August.

    May 16, 2014 | 6:22 pm

     
  19. Taylor Hubbard says:

    While Phillips the company seems to be thriving, the quality of the food at its restaurants has been going downhill for the last twenty years unfortunately. I had fond memories of going to Phillips at the DC waterfront as a kid – it’s dissolved into an all you can eat buffet place. I live in Baltimore and wouldn’t dream of taking visitors there or going there myself – it’s essentially an overpriced tourist trap. I’m no expert on Maryland crabs but I imagine one would fare better a shack on the eastern shore. Regarding Old Bay, I used to use it a lot when I first moved to Baltimore but now I am kind of turned off by it – I guess I overdid it and certainly all over Baltimore one catches wafts of it – and have experimented with other locally produced Maryland-type seasonings.

    May 20, 2014 | 10:10 am

     
  20. Marketman says:

    Taylor, that’s unfortunate to hear, Phillips holds good memories, but yes, from 30+ years ago! And yes, the little independent crab shacks in the hidden dead ends along the Maryland shore had fantastic food finds… I had a crab and vegetable soup or chowder at a little shack that was quite memorable.

    May 20, 2014 | 10:40 am

     

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