New Englanders have their lobster boils, and Deep South folks love their crawfish. But mid-Atlantic people like those around my family’s river cottage in Virginia have crab-picking parties. Most families on the water have one or more big square black metal mesh crab pots that they put in daily or on the weekends out in the river in front of their cottages to catch some crabs to cook for a meal. Whenever you see a rowboat stopped not too far from shore, you know someone in the family is pulling in the crab pots to check them for the night’s entrée!
The crabs that are acceptable to pull from the river are boiled in big cook pots, most often prepared with Old Bay seasoning, and the now-orange cooked crabs are served up for diners to crack the shells which are then picked of meat.
It’s a messy process, but the crab meat is so tasty! Some people pick the crab meat in order to make crab cakes or crab casseroles. But many river folk think there is nothing better than eating the meat right out of the shells and claws. My younger son loves to pick his own crabs and doesn’t want the meat prepared in another way–he wants right out of the shell!
This crab picking dinner party table is a dressed-down affair–since picking crabs is a messy business, I covered the dining table with old newspapers that will make clean-up easy. I also created the centerpiece out of a galvanized bucket filled with paper towels for guests to use to wipe their hands as they eat. The tin tub also be used for guests to put their crab detritus in when they are ready to clear their plates for the next crabs.
I used four nautical-looking navy and white striped melamine platters at the table, one for each guest. I found these at the Christmas Tree Shop several years ago–they have been quite useful as serving platters as well as serving well for this sort of meal.The little blue crab wooden ornaments were also from the Christmas Tree Shop which carries all kinds of seasonal items, not just Christmas things. I laid the party favor for each guest on top of a small white china shell bowl which will have melted butter in it for dipping the crab meat since the meal is underway. Those four little shell bowls were my aunt’s, and I enjoy the chance to use them. The wooden mallets for cracking the crab shells were also found at the Christmas Tree Shop. We also have two metal heavy-duty shell crackers that can be shared by the guest.In addition to using your fingers to put out the crab meat from the shells, and thus the need for the paper towels, you might use a skinny metal pick to pull the meat. I forgot to lay out for the photos our picks which I brought out in the tin tub. Obviously I got them out when it was time to eat. The picks make the work go faster.Large clear glass tumblers are also set on the table for cooling iced tea or cold beer, depending on the guest.