Discussing ‘Shells’ would not be complete without a mention of our other friend with a hard shell on the outside..Crab, the Crustacean.
Land crabs are the grayish colored crabs that live in the network of holes found in low lying areas near swamps, salt ponds and marshes throughout regions of the Caribbean, especially in areas like Villa Flat.
They are rather large crabs, growing to about four or five inches in diameter not including their formidable claws, and they make a clicking sound with their feet when they move across cement or other hard surfaces.
During the day you may see them standing just outside a hole into which they will quickly descend as soon as they notice your approach.
They only venture away from their holes at night or when it’s raining in order to search for food. They eat just about anything they can find including their own young.
These are the same creatures that make an unsuspecting housewife scream when she stumbles upon one on her patio. Because these crabs are primarily vegetarians and burrowers, those two characteristics also make them unwelcome visitors at well manicured lawns.
In reality, we are the invaders not them but regardless of who gets the bad guy label, humans and land crabs interactions always seem to end up as an unpleasant experiences for one of the parties. Actually the land crab’s worst enemy is the human.
On the other hand, people have a completely different response to land crabs when they show up on the menu. In other words, between our anger at land crabs for property destruction and our appreciation of them as dinner, the crabs are coming out on the short end of the battle.
Hunting for Land Crabs
Live trapped land crabs are edible, especially the claws. Hunting land crabs for food is part of the culture of certain areas of St.Vincent and probably has been so since the first human beings landed there years ago.
The primary use of the land crab is to provide the essential ingredient for the tasty West Indian dishes known simply as Crab n Rice and Crab Back (my favorite).
They cannot be bought at any store, so you first have to catch some.
Hunting crabs was usually a group activity that takes place in the late evening or at night on a waning moon, a time the islanders call ‘Dark Night’. This is when the land crab is most likely to be found out of its hole.
They are very easily frightened and have excellent senses of hearing and sight, so normally it is extremely difficult to sneak up on them and catch them.
Catching crabs at night is locally called “torching,” a term, which comes from the days before flashlights were commonly available and a ‘torch’ was used instead.
Torches were made with a bottle filled with kerosene and a piece of cloth stuffed in the mouth of the bottle with a piece of it hanging in the liquid. The cloth is lit and it is sustained by the wet ‘wick’ in the bottle. Some people may refer to the torch as a “Flambeau”
Torching requires a flashlight or a flambeau, a forked stick and a sack. Usually one person controls the light, another catches the crab and a third holds the sack. This activity was usually done with my adventurous niece who was fearless.
The beam of light from the flashlight serves to blind the crab and momentarily and stops it from running away. If you shine a bright light on them at night, they tend to stop in their tracks, blinded by the glare.
The stick is useful to quickly block up its hole if it tries to get back in and control the movements of the crab.
The goal then is to snatch up the crab and put it in the sack. This is done with a quick sweep of the hand grabbing it firmly from the back and tilting it forward to prevent being pinched by the claws. Less confident crab hunters may wear a glove as a partial protection against this possible pinching, which can be quite painful.Bare Handed
With a lot of care and practice, you can handle live crabs with your bare hands. When held properly, the crab will not be able to get you with its sharp claws. The trick is to know where to hold them, and most importantly….don’t panic.
Method: Grab it with your index finger and thumb at the back of the shell keeping the other fingers out of the way because of the way the claws are hinged to the body, it is unable to reach backwards to bite.
Land crabs should always be purged before cooking them. Purging improves the crab’s flavor as it rids the crab of anything disgusting it may have eaten. To purge the crab you must put it in a cage or barrel with plenty of ventilation and access to a little food and water. Dried coconut is good. Keep the cage clean and periodically wash them with water using a garden hose.
Recipe for Crab Back
- Get 10 or 12 crabs.
- Purge them as described.
- Drop live crabs into enough water as needed to cover them.
- Bring to a boil and remove from heat for 10 minutes.
- Take off the back of the crab.
- Clean the shell out and keep it for later in the process.
- Clean crabs and remove guts and waste using a nylon brush in salted water mixed with vinegar and lime juice.
- Keep the meat especially the parts from the claws.
Obtain the following ingredients for seasoning: Salt, fresh ground black pepper, fresh garlic, onion, chives, parsley, fresh thyme, a pinch of scotch bonnet pepper, cooking oil, a few drops of like juice, a hint of curry powder, a dash of Worcestershire sauce and a dash of soy sauce.
Place all of seasoning mixture over the crab meat and mix well.
Add some bread crumbs or a little bit of ‘farine’ and mix into a paste. Let the crab stand for about a half an hour so that the seasoning can soak into the crabmeat.
Add a few tablespoons of cooking oil in a frying pan and sauté the crab for a few minutes. Next, use your hands to stuff the crab meat into the shells and put them into the oven to bake for about 20 minutes at about 375 deg C.
Take them out of the oven and enjoy. It can be eaten ‘as is’ or serve with a nice garden salad and a chilled white wine. That slightly ‘sweetish’ flavor would tantalize you every time…ummm!!!