Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Sand Crab Chowder: Really!

I realize that this bit of mischief during a week at the beach could be pushing the envelope over the deep end, but at least somebody else did it first. Not that sand crabs are inhabitants of deep water. Instead, you find them by the gazillions burrowing in wet sand left momentarily bare with the recession of each Atlantic wave.

Boiled up, squished with a potato masher, then strained through cheesecloth and discarded, the broth they produce has potential. Although the soup pictured above tasted a bit watery, I believe that over several days of experimentation to determine how best to “bring it up,” that a truly delicious chowder could result.

The biggest mystery to me was the green color. When boiled, the sand crabs turn a light orangish brown and produce a broth of similar color. However, when you mix that broth with chopped red onions browned in butter, the end product turns a dark green. My guess is that the red onions are the culprit.

The recipe is from the uncopyrighted and needless to say out of print Strange Seafood Cookbook, a project of the North Carolina Maritime Museum. It was printed in conjunction with the museum’s Strange Seafood Festival, held at the museum throughout the 1980’s and into the 1990’s. Although I attended this festival three different years, never was anyone---at least to my knowledge---serving up “mole crab chowder.” Ultimately, the Strange Seafood Festival was discontinued, and the final printing of the Strange Seafood Cookbook was dedicated as follows:

This edition of the Strange Seafood Cookbook is dedicated to Judith M. Spitsbergen, whose hard work and enthusiasm led to the creation of the first Strange Seafood Cookbook and promoted the acceptance of many once-strange seafoods to a new status for our dining room tables.
That is certainly the case with many of the seafoods that were featured in this cookbook and at the festival. Sand crabs, however, remain an exception.


1 to 2 pounds of live mole crabs
2 cups of water
2 to 3 red onions, chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablepsoon butter
½ teaspoon cilantro, minced
2 to 4 more cups of water
1 cup noodles, rice, or potatoes, not cooked
flour or toasted wheat flour

Steam the crabs in a covered pan with 2 cups of water until they are tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from the stove and, with the crabs still in the broth, mash thoroughly with a potato masher. Strain through cheesecloth, retaining the broth and discarding the crabs. Next, fry the onions to a golden color in the oil and butter, and mix with the broth in a saucepan. Add the cilantro and two cups of water. Heat the broth and add either the noodles, rice, or potatoes to “stretch” the broth. Remember to add sufficient water to cook the quantity of ingredient you add. The broth and chowder may also be thickened by adding plain flour or toasted wheat flour.

Contributed by Mrs. Judie Spitsbergen, Morehead City, NC