Carolina Blue Crab
Carolina Blue Crab
Blue Crabs (Callinectes sapidus) has been important to the culinary traditions of the Carolinas since people inhabited the area. Its scientific name means Beautiful Savory Swimmer and if you’ve ever seen them swim you’d know why. These crabs have a beautiful blue color to them and the mature females even get a tinge of orange on the tips of their claw.
When I was a child, my friends and I used to have fun catching these wonderful shellfish. If we were on a dock, we would drop hoop nets with chicken tied to the center of the net. If we were at the beach we would hand line which is tying a piece of chicken to string, tossing it in water near the groins, waiting for the crab to grab ahold, slowly drag it out and scoop it up with a dip net. (For those of you who don’t know what a groin at the beach is, it’s a short jetty that runs from the dunes to past the low tide mark to help control beach erosion). These days I usually just drop a crab pot while fishing for other fish which of course is the much easier way to catch Blue Crabs.
Meat from the body and claws are use to make many traditional Carolina dishes. Recent research discovered that Blue Crabs were a much bigger part of Native American and American Colonists’ diet than previously thought. Blue Crabs are very popular throughout the Carolinas but in particular along the Carolina Coast. Awendaw and Little River, South Carolina both have Blue Crab Festivals to celebrate the delicious shellfish.
There is a size limit in both South Carolina and North Carolina of 5 inches across, spike tip to spike tip. The males are called a “Jimmy” and the females are called a “Sook.” Eggs from the female “Sooks” were used in She-Crab Soup which is a traditional delicacy originating in Charleston, SC. Presently, She-Crab Soup is made with crab eggs other than Blue Crabs in the Carolinas since “Sooks” with eggs must be released back into the water in both states.
When Blue Crabs are molting in the spring they are called Soft-Shell Crabs. Soft-Shell Crabs are sought after delicacy that you can find in many Carolina restaurants and seafood stores during the molting season. They are often battered and fried then eaten whole. Port Royal, South Carolina has a Soft-Shell Crab Festival in April.
As mentioned before, there are several methods used to catch crabs from crab pods to hoop nets to the simple chicken neck tied on a string and a small net. Commercial crabbers can be seen dropping crab pots in the rivers and creeks along the Carolina coast. You can also find children often use hand lines with chicken necks tied on and dip nets, catching crabs off of docks or along groins at the beach.
Average Blue Crabs produces around 2 ounces of meat and the meat is about 14% of whole crab weight on average. The meat from Blue Crabs is a high quality protein, and a great source of phosphorus, zinc, copper, calcium, and iron. In addition, Blue Crab meat is very low in fat, particularly saturated fat.
Popular dishes made with Blue Crab in the Carolinas include the aforementioned She-Crab Soup, Crab Boil, Deviled Crab, Carolina Crab Cakes, Crab and Corn Chowder, Crab Croquettes, Crab Dip, and Crab Salad.
Charleston Crab Cakes
Chowan River Crab Cakes
Capers Island Crab Cakes
Further Reading and Sources