A TERRIFIC BEACH WEEKEND IN APRIL
Crabs are back! The Carolina Blue crab, Callinectes sapidus, which literally means beautiful or savory swimmer, spends the winter sleeping in the mucky muck at the bottom of our sounds and bays.
When the water begins to warm, the crabs emerge, and feeling rather randy, want to begin to mate, feed, and if we're lucky, make their way into crab pots and onto our plates! Busters, chandlers' wives and jimmies are nicknames given crabs when wooing and shedding. When soft shells come in at the first full moon in May, I'll tell their story.
Ray Hautsch, of B & J Seafood in New Bern, is one of those seafood vendors that this cook just loves. "Whatcha got that's fresh?" I ask. Remembering what I like, his face brightens, he talks about what's coming in and where it's from, then disappears into the back, where you hear him scaling and cleaning and calling out ideas for ways to cook his fresh treasures.
This weekend, he had a big, beautiful rockfish, or striper, on ice that had been caught upriver. Stripers spend the winters in the ocean, then come into the estuaries and rivers, and this is amazing to me, where they were born, in order to spawn themselves. The hubby and I were staying for a few nights at his family's beach condo, where we saw another party grilling (hamburgers, at the beach?). When they were done with the grill, Steve rushed down to place our beautiful fillets over the remaining coals. Not having any fresh herbs on hand, we just used a seasoning salt on it. What a delightful feast. The fish was firm but moist, with a delightful mild but definite fish taste.
But what really delighted me were the live crabs Ray cleaned for us. Bright blue claws! Ray introduced me to a totally different way of preparing crabs, one that I did not run into while researching THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK. You place cleaned crabs upside down on a baking sheet, put butter in the cavity, and a ton of garlic, then sprinkle loads of freshly cracked pepper over it all. Cover with foil, then place in a 300 degree preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes. Look at the above "after" photo, and you can imagine the sensuous delight we had "picking" those crabs. I was glad for the fresh asparagus that we could just pick up, too, for it was a definite "finger food" meal, lasting for hours and many glasses of wine picking through at least 3 crabs each.
Another evening was spent with the flounder Ray had "pocketed" for the lump crabmeat he placed in our ice chest, which also made a super omelette the next morning.
B&J Seafood is located right on HWY 70, on the right near the airport turnoff and past the bridges if you're headed TO the coast. Tell them I sent you.