Succulent and sumptuous, steamed blue crabs are a delectable part of our Maryland culture. They are loved and treasured, albeit increasingly expensive.
Not in Italy, specifically the Scardovari lagoon, Po’ River Delta, near the Adriatic Sea, in northeast Italy. Our beloved blue crabs are considered “invasive.” They are eating clams so intrinsic to pasta and other Italian food. The clam farmers are scrambling, striving to love the voracious crabs, reluctantly.
Some restauranteurs in Venice are trying to adjust their menus. Viewing blue crabs in a negative light risks the joy of an iconic crustacean. An open mind is critical to acceptance of a different food choice.
It just seems wrong-headed when a treasure is in your midst. I am at a loss for words (just a misapplied expression). My love for crabs is unconditional.
If you are thinking that the Italians can send the blues our way, a Chesapeake Bay Foundation scientist put the kibosh on that idea. She questioned whether they would represent a health threat to the Bay, possibly bearing disease and ‘hangers on.’
And she opined that these imported crabs would compete with our local variety.
While I commend the Maryland-first mentality, I am just a bit skeptical. If I am not mistaken, jumbo lump crab meat is shipped from Thailand to the shores of Maryland. That’s a long journey, across several time zones.
For some reason, I find it amusing that blue crabs have “invaded” the food-loving country of Italy. They were not invited. They came by way of a ship’s bilge. Not very exotic or comfortable travel conditions. They arrived in warm waters, aided by hospitable climate change.
I would suggest to the bereaved clam farmers that blue crabs deserve love and attention. They are an utter delicacy in Maryland and Virginia. They bring joy; crab feasts are an epicurean delight. They can last for hours, accompanied by corn, beer, garlic bread, cole slaw, an appealing desert and plentiful camaraderie.
Dipping crabmeat in olive oil is customary.
Amid a crisis created by a foreign invader, Italy must adapt, taste and enjoy incomparable crabmeat. Whining is unproductive, even tasteless.
Here’s my suggestion for our global neighbors: invite Maryland’s watermen, crab dealers and restaurant owners to Italy (suspect they would savor the outreach) and seek their advice in creating a market for blue crabs.
Seize the moment. Consider the economic benefits.
Forget the strange appearance of blue crabs. Look beyond the shell. Behold the unparalleled taste.
Just maybe, Marylanders may adjust their travel plans to digest not only pasta and gelato, but also blue crabs, crab soup and crab imperial. Tourists always like a taste of home. McDonald’s has a limited menu.
Mind you, I am not gloating over the demise of 90 percent of the clams in the Scardovari lagoon. It is a sad and tough economic blow. The clam farmers are distressed. Change is difficult.
But behold a new future filled with Old Bay seasoning, mallets, tasty claws and lump crabmeat—and customers adjusting to messy but memorable eating conditions. Italian music would still be appropriate, if not a novel native touch.
Maryland’s best, apart from its people, could form a culinary partnership with the wonderful country of Italy. Blue crabs are built for social occasions, infused with chatter, laughter and full-on eating. They invite happy consumers.
One more thing: blue crabs are guests, not invaders. When steamed and seasoned, they bring happiness across all sub-sections of people.
And wine, though not usually associated with crab-eating, is allowable. Spaghetti and crabs, a desirable recipe in the Philadelphia-New Jersey-New Jersey area, can easily find a home in Italy.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. After 44 years in Easton, Howard and his wife, Liz, moved in November 2020 to Annapolis, where they live with Toby, a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel who has no regal bearing, just a mellow, enticing disposition.