It was the first time I’d made her dinner. I thought I’d wow her with Crab Lemon Pasta or, to make it seem even more elegant, Crab Piccata on Pasta. Since I don’t cook much, I figured that would impress her. To make it all the more impressive, I’d use real crab. The whole cooking process only took 15 minutes and I had three hours. No sweat.
“We’re all out,” the guy behind the seafood counter at the market told me. “But they should have some at the docks. Just boil it.”
I had no idea how to boil crab, but I figured it was somewhere in the Joy of Cooking, so I headed for the docks.
“How big ya want?” the guy on the boat asked.
“Enough for two people.”
“Okay.” He reached into a bucket and pulled out a mass of wriggling legs and rubber-banded claws. “This should do. Got something to carry it in?”
“Oh, a bucket, say.”
“No.” I looked in my car and found a plastic bag. “Will this work?”
“Not very well.” He shoved the thing into the bag and tied the top shut. “Best get home quick.”
I took off with the crab on the passenger’s seat. About a block from the harbor the bag started to move. In short order the bag was shredded, and I was driving down the main street of town with an angry crab trying to crawl over me. Steering with one hand and beating on the crab with the other, I finally got it off me without crashing the car. It scuttled under the passenger’s seat.
I made it home without further incident. Opening the passenger door I knelt on the ground and looked under the seat. A pair of beady eyes on stalks stared back at me. The seat moving mechanism was in the way, so I moved the seat as far forward as I could and quickly opened the back passenger’s door to grab my quarry from behind. I got lucky.
Into the house I ran with the frantic beast at arm’s length. I tossed it into the sink. It tried to crawl out. I grabbed the biggest pot I owned and shoved it on top of the monster.
I pulled out The Joy of Cooking. “Crabs must be alive and lively when cooked,” it told me. Well, this guy was certainly that. I turned to the section on poaching a crab. It told me to ease this guy into boiling water alive! I peeked under the pot. The beady eyes peeked back.
There had to be a better way.
I still had an hour and a half. Google would help me out. A few false starts and I found a site that told me boiling live crabs was a bad thing to do: their guts explode and taint the meat. The humane and tasty way is to lay the live crab on its back, place a very large knife down the center, and in one quick motion split it in two.
My kitchen is not the best equipped in the world. I got my biggest knife, set it on the counter and lifted the pot off the crab. Mr. Beady Eyes tried to escape, but I got hold of his shell and flipped him over on the counter. I grabbed the knife and positioned it over him. The little legs flailed the air. I tried to press down on the knife and felt sick. “Great!”
I had a little over an hour left.
I shoved the crab into the pot, added some water, put the lid on, secured it with a couple of big spoons, grabbed a pair of scissors and headed for the car. Ten minutes to the beach and I lugged the pot to the waterline. I grabbed Mr. Crab, clipped the rubber bands from his claws and sat him at the waterline. A wave came in. The water revived him. With the second wave, he ran back into the sea without so much as a backward glance.
“Oh well.” Fifty minutes left. I drove faster than recommended to the store and grabbed a pound of fake crab. Home — half an hour left. Pot for pasta, skillet for the rest. Water and oil heat as I chop green onions without regards for my fingers. Change clothes. Water boils — pasta in, onions and garlic sauté, lemons zested. I chop broccoli and juice the lemons as the clock ticks. Add cornstarch, set the table. The timer rings — broccoli in with the pasta, crab, capers and lemon juice into the skillet.
The doorbell rings. “Am I early?”
“No, just have a seat at the dining room table. Dinner will be served in just a sec.” Back to the kitchen, stir. The timer rings — turn off the fire, drain the pasta and broccoli, pour into bowls, add the sauce. “Wine!” Into the refrigerator, grab the corkscrew, open the bottle.
I place the bowls on the table, retrieve the bottle and pour our glasses.
She eyes the bowls. “I love crab.” She tastes. “It’s wonderful. I hope you didn’t go to too much trouble.”
“It was nothing.”
Crab Piccata on Pasta
Set a large pan of water to boil and cook 4 oz. pasta. Meanwhile, in 1 Tbsp. olive oil, sauté 2 sliced green onions, zest of 1 or 2 lemons (2 for Meyers — preferred, 1 for Eurekas), 4 minced cloves garlic and ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes for 1 minute. Add juice of the lemons. Add ½ tsp. cornstarch to 1 Tbsp. Sherry and stir until the cornstarch is in suspension. Add suspension to the other ingredients and stir. As the mixture thickens, add ½ lb. cooked crabmeat and 1-2 Tbsp. capers and stir until the crab is warm. Serve over pasta. Make into a one-dish meal by adding cut-up broccoli or asparagus during the last 2 minutes the pasta cooks.
Stephen Sottong worked as a computer programmer, electronics technician, electrical engineer and librarian before retiring. He now lives behind the Redwood Curtain in Eureka, California with his wife, three cats and four hives of bees while devoting himself to his first love, writing fiction and science fiction. He was one of the 2012 winners of Writers of the Future.