I'd been plotting an excursion on the water with Steve Vilnit for months. Y'all remember Steve, he's the one that who promotes Maryland seafood to chefs... like, for a living. I can confirm after spending a Saturday on the water with him and a few of my favorite folks that, indeed, it is one of the better ways to earn a buck.
I picked up Jenna, Nikki and Laeticia bright and early in Washington, DC and we aimed my rig towards the quaint Eastern Shore fishing village of Cambridge. Within five minutes of arriving at J.M. Clayton Seafood, we were on a boat in the Choptank River with Captain Billy. The first step was getting friendly with the crabs. We each
|Me holding Jimmy|
|Sally and her red nails|
|He's a keeper!|
Way to put it into perspective.
|Here's THE ONE I caught.|
After we all took a turn, we headed back to J.M. Clayton where we'd learn how those crabs would get from the boat to our table. The crabs are sorted and weighed, then those destined to be lump or backfin are tossed into these giant steamers where they are cooked.
|Giant Crab Pots|
|Bad ass crab picking women!|
For the Clayton clan and Captain Billy, the 80 women picking crabs and for the amount restaurants charge for crab, I think we all deserve to know when Maryland crab on a menu actually means Maryland crab. As Jessica from Washington City Paper called them, "crab fakes" not "crab cakes."
There are two ways you can help:
1) Ask. When you see Maryland crab on the menu. Ask your server to confirm with the chef that it's actually from Maryland. Don't feel like a pain in the butt. Ask. Otherwise, you're getting cheaply-picked Indonesian crab (and paying Maryland-quality prices) that took two weeks to get here and sat on a shipping dock for who knows how long.
2) The State of Maryland has launched a "True Blue" Maryland seafood authentication seal. Chefs who use "True Blue" on their menus must prove once a month, with receipts, that what they are calling Maryland seafood is Maryland seafood. Ask your favorite restaurants to join the program and patronize those that do.
Here's the deal folks... Whether it's wine or cheese or meat... Location matters. That doesn't mean you have to be snobby, it just means things taste different and you may have a preference. In a recent test taste, Maryland blew away the imported crab. And why not? It's fresher because it's local. Also, because it gets chilly up here, Maryland crabs have a little fat (what they call "mustard"). Doesn't everything taste better when it's cooked with a little fat? (See: bacon, duck fat)
|Steve showing us the crab picking machine at JM Clayton... they invented it!|
|J.M. Clayton's Epicure Crab - look for it at Whole Foods|
|Fresh picked crab on the river it was caught... life is good.|
|Jenna, Laeticia, Nikki and Amanda|
|me, Nikki and Jenna... clearly working hard...|
PSSSS. Which of my favorite spots are serving True Blue certified Maryland seafood? Woodberry Kitchen, Dino, Equinox, Cantler's, Tony & Joes, Nick's Riverside Grille, Bistro Bis, Gertrude's, Vidalia and area Whole Foods.
UPDATE: The fantastic Ben Fortney has a Foursquare list of all of the Maryland True Blue certified restaurants. Follow it here.