Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Epiphany in steam and sea

What's that?

It is indeed disconcerting when you think your dinner is climbing out of the biggest stockpot you have--especially when that stockpot is a little more than a foot across.

In fact, this is what the stockpot had in store:

The problem with this photo, mainly, is that there is no way to impress you with the scale of this creature. I tried taking photos of my hands next to the crab, but my hands are scrawny as it is anyway, and short of putting it right next to my head for reference there's really no way of convincing you that this beast is nearly 14 inches across. That claw? In diameter, it has to be at least four inches.

A friend was wonderful enough to bring this crab from Pohnpei when he visited a month ago. The crab has been sitting in my freezer for a month, while in the meantime I borrowed a crab cracker and agonized over when to spend the necessary hours savoring such an ungodly animal.

Never mind that when I finally opened the freezer bag last night, I had a mild panic attack, seeing as I have never actually cooked shellfish before, and it was already in the stockpot steaming away for nearly 15 minutes before it occurred to me to look online for instructions on how to not die from eating self-prepared shellfish. The thought of potentially effing up meat that goes for about $20-25 also made me slightly anxious.

I'm still alive--and not drowning in sorrow from throwing away $20-25--today so I didn't mess up, thankfully.

In fact, I was truly overjoyed to be able to capture in a few photographs what I can't call anything less than a food epiphany. I've had two before: one while eating lobster for the second time in my life at a lobster supper on Prince Edward Island (with its fresh hot rolls and melted butter, bottomless bowl of clam chowder, and blueberry pie with real cream whipped cream for afterwards), and another that involved a Muslim Chinese beef dish with coriander seeds and cilantro after an eight year stint in vegetarian naivete.

Things that I learned throughout this experience:

1. I will never be able to again have a first time eating crab from Pohnpei,

2. Claws and legs are absolutely worth the effort of gnawing away; it's about enjoying the sea water within and the firm texture of the flesh. However, if you only eat the legs, there are no words to describe your loss in neglecting the more tender and interesting body meat,

3. A ball-peen hammer is a reasonable substitute for a crab mallet,

4. Despite a genuine commitment to make sure that the intended dinner did not die in vain or wastefully, and given that the five foods on this planet I just don't like include kidney and liver, it is sometimes worth wasting a little bit (in this case, crab lungs) so as not to spoil the entire experience,


5. Despite 2 1/2 hours of committed eating, slurping, picking, and smacking, it is reasonable to expect that one will, at the end of such an effort, be as hungry as one was when one started.

However, it was worth every second. The crab did not die in vain. Its shell and leftover parts (minus those suspiciously textured lungs) will be resurrected in stock, and maybe I'll end up keeping part of that claw as a memento for what is really, truly great food.

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