Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Feeling a bit crabby

My father was an avid fisherman and whenever he got vacation time, we would pile up in the family station wagon and head to the West Coast of Florida for some Gulf Coast fishing in Fort Myers, Naples or Sarasota.

Sitting in the backseat in between my brother and I was the family dog, April. Her placement between my brother and I was purposeful as it kept my older brother from pinching me in the leg or jabbing me in the side, thereby causing me to wail and scream, “Dad he is hitting me.” This tantrum, in turn, caused my parents, to cringe in the front seat, to have nervous breakdowns or worse turn around and yell at us.

During this particular trip to Naples my parents had booked a motel room along the bay. Dad was intent on crabbing and the motel had a full kitchen mom would use to make us some fresh cangrejo enchilada (Cuban style Crab in Creole sauce).

I was about eight or nine years old during this trip but it is one vacation I always remember. My brother decided to stay with friends instead of making the trip to Naples so the back seat was just April and I. We checked into the motel and the bay was across the street. Dad prepped the crab traps with chucks of chicken and into the water they went. We hung out by the pool, played in the bay with my dog and went to sleep later that night. The following morning dad checked the traps and they were LOADED – success.

Then the fun began. Mom had the pot of boiling water going and dad was reaching into the traps with kitchen tongs and pulling out the crabs. One by one they went into the water until one of them, possibly realizing his future demise, jumped out of the trap and started running across the kitchen floor.
Curious about the strange creature my dog started to chase the crab and the crustacean went into defense mode, pinchers up and ready.
“Stay away from the crab it will pinch your snout off,” dad yelled at April in Spanish. Being a bright and obviously bi-lingual German shepherd April backed away. For the next 20 minutes dad and I chased that crab around the motel room, mom watched as she continued to prepare the ones we managed to get in the pot.

April cornered the crab next to the front door, I used another pot and quickly covered the crab, “Got it,” I yelled. Dad came over with the tongs, grabbed and grabbed the sucker. I thought he was ready to toss the crab into the water but instead walked outside, across the street and tossed him back into the bay.
“But dad, we had him,” I said.
“That S.O.B. fought for his life, so he gets a chance to swim again,” dad said laughing.

Two years ago mom and dad were visiting and we talked about that vacation and the meal we did finally enjoy once the fiasco was finished. Mom said she wanted to make the dish again but only trusted markets where the crabs could be purchased while they were still alive.
I called around and came across Bobo II Seafood in Hinesville.

“Yes we have live crabs,” the person on the phone said when I called. I drove there with my parents and we were able to select the size and quantity. We placed the box of crabs in the back seat of my car and you could hear them moving around. Brought the box in the house and dad used my kitchen tongs to place them in the boiling water. One crab jumped out of the box, my dog Chelsea approached the curious beast and the crab stuck out his pincher in attack mode.
My dad and I looked at each other and broke out laughing. “Here we go again,” I said. It didn’t take as long this time, however and soon we were feasting on mom’s delicious dish.

That was my first time visiting Bobo II Seafood but it was definitely not my last. The place is not a restaurant but a seafood market. However during that first visit I was surprised to learn they sold a low-country boil lunch. The Tibetan owners will offer you the savory meal with a spicy topping if you want to add a little heat. Be warned that spice has a mean kick to it and is the best way to clear your sinuses while enjoying the fresh boiled shrimp, corn and potato dish.

Since then the owners have expanded to offer a variety of takeout meals. In 2013 they started selling fried seafood in addition to their boil. Folks come in and buy the fresh fish of their choice and the staff will offer to cook it up.
I’ve had the fried snapper. The staff cut the head and tail off, butterflied the fish and deep fried it. They placed my cooked fish in the takeout plate and I think I had pretty much finished it off before getting home.

Some folks get the fried shrimp or scallops, but I keep coming back for the boil. It is simple yet tasty and after a while you get used to the spicy heat. And of course you can get the heat sauce on the side or ask for their garlic sauce instead.

Everything here is to-go but well worth it.
And yes, I have even returned to get more live crabs. Mom shared enough of her recipe. She was never one to measure. It was always, “Add a little of this, some of this and a lot of that,” as she would say in Spanish.

I’ve mastered it enough to make it at home for friends or even for myself and it always takes me back to that trip in Naples.

Cangrejo Enchilado
5-6 large live blue crabs
Olive Oil
One sweet onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 large green pepper, chopped
One cup chopped parsley
2 bay leaves
1 large can of tomato sauce
1 cup red wine (the kind you would drink as my mom would say)
Salt and hot sauce to taste

Have a large pot of salted boiling water going and cooked the crabs for about 5 minutes. Drain the water and let the crabs slightly cool so you can handle them with your hands. Remove the carapace and clean away the gunk and lungs leaving only the clean crab meat. Break the chest of the crab in half, remove the legs and claws and set aside until the sauce is ready.

Sautee the onion, garlic, green pepper and parsley in the Olive Oil until soft. Add the wine, tomato sauce, bay leaves, salt and hot sauce and let that simmer for 20 minutes. Add the crabs and let it simmer for another 10 minutes so the flavor is infused into every crevice of the crab. Serve in a bowl or over rice and have plenty of hand towels ready. I add a few slices of Cuban bread to the table for sopping up the spicy goodness as well.

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