Mike here, with another post trying to beat our record of only having 2 new blog entries per month. This time, it’s the story of a unique and unexpected early Christmas present we received.
Last Thursday, I came back to work after lunch to find our office administrator, Genevieve, sitting and chatting with a distinguished looking, silver haired lady that I had never seen before. Genevieve introduced her as the wife of the current Yap State Court Chief Justice.
Many months ago, I was at a celebration with several other members of State government and had struck up a conversation with the Chief Judge about unusual local foods. He mentioned that locals eat not only turtle and fruit bat, but also mangrove crabs. I expressed some interest, mentioning that crab was one of the few kinds of seafood I actually enjoy. As we kept talking, he said that if he ever got a hold of a mangrove crab he would send one over to me. Of course, I said that would be delightful.
I basically forgot about it until last week, when Genevieve handed me a large package tightly wrapped in banana leaves and tied together with a rope made of local fibers. When she told me to be careful because “It’s still alive”, I thought she was joking and said so. Genevieve replied that she wasn’t, and told me the package contained one giant mangrove crab. I was a little shocked at the thought of what to do with the thing, but nevertheless thanked the Chief Judges’ wife profusely, and let her know we would be enjoying the crab for dinner tonight. The instructions for cooking were simple enough: just put in a pot of boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes.
At the end of the day, I drove home with the banana leaf package secured in the rear compartment of my scooter. It was so big, it barely fit. I’m sure the crab didn’t enjoy the bumpy ride home either. Miranda was pretty surprised when I announced that I had brought us something for dinner. When I handed over the package, she peeked inside the wrapping and saw the crabs’ little eye poking out. The crab looked at her and I, then at the large pot of water boiling away on the stove directly across the kitchen, and likely resigned itself to its fate. Immediately, Miranda announced that she didn’t want the job of having to put the poor creature in the pot! So, I was left with the task of removing the creature from its wrapper and giving it its last swim, in lightly salted boiling water.
Here’s a picture of yours truly, hesitantly cutting away the dried leaf cords holding the package together. At any moment, I expected a mammoth claw to whip out and attack me, or even worse, that the crab would jump off the counter and make a dash towards the front door and freedom.
Thankfully, whoever wrapped the crab had the foresight to securely tie each of its giant claws. I’m sure that was not an easy job, as these claws looked like they could easily chop off a finger! It’s difficult to accurately describe how big this thing was. It was certainly the largest crab I had ever seen. If I had to guess, the body of the crab alone was at least 15 inches from end to end.
Since it was tied up, it couldn’t scuttle away, so I worked up the nerve, and finally dropped it in the pot. It was so large, it had to go in sideways. The unsubmerged half twitched and thrashed wildly at first, but stopped after a few seconds. I was able to pry it’s little legs off the rim of the pot, and push the whole thing in there. Just like Genevieve had said, about 10 minutes later the crab was done.
Editor’s Note: Sure, Mike looks calm and completely at ease in these photos. Not shown is the picture, taken a split-second after the one seen above, of Mike recoiling in shock and horror as the crab dangled precariously on the rim of the pot, threatening to tip over. That one will remain only for in-person viewing upon request.
After cooking, the crab was bright red like a lobster and smelled delicious.
The legs and claws popped off easily, and would have made a complete meal by themselves. We split the body in half, and removed massive amounts of crab meat from the inside cavity. While the meat wasn’t white, like on Alaska Snow Crab legs, there was so much more of it.
The claws were were nearly bigger than Miranda’s hand (as seen here). Once cracked open, the claws contained more meat than in an entire lobster tail. Eaten with ample amounts of garlic butter, it was truly one of the best things I’ve eaten on-island so far. Possibly ever. It tasted like snow crab meat, but perhaps a little sweeter and more strongly flavored.
Of course, like any other crab, getting to the meat took a little bit of effort. Since we didn’t bring any ‘claw crackers’ with us, we settled on using our trusty hammer to break the shell. This was easier said than done. The claws were so big, and the shell so thick, it really took a forceful whack with the hammer to even dent the thing! I’m sure our neighbors were annoyed with the sporadic hammering coming from our living room. They must have thought we were building a bookcase in there. It was worth it though, because without a doubt, I’ve never gotten more full on crab meat there was just so much of it.
So, many thanks to the family of the Chief Judge, and their holiday season generosity. I’m hoping this will not be my last time sampling this local delicacy, but who knows, maybe the next time we’ll have occasion to cook up some fruit bat!