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For a summer feast, crabs every which way

The fact that the roast was already done cut down on last-minute prep. I also got dessert out of the way earlier in the day by using components from the downstairs freezer, where a muffin pan full of baked, unfrosted cupcakes was stored in layers of plastic wrap. I also found plastic containers of cream cheese and chocolate frostings there, with plenty of stuff piled on top of them, no doubt to allay temptation.

Fortunately, the casual nature of the meal meant that timing didn't have to be an issue. The apps were all make-ahead. The hard-shells, coleslaw and bowls to reserve spent shells were on the table, set that morning. Just before the family came, I started a grill fire. When the time came, I handed a platter of raw asparagus to one of the guests and asked him to grill the vegetables.

As guests started to hammer away at the steamed crabs, I popped into the kitchen to melt butter for dipping, saute crab cakes, slice the roast and retrieve corn on the cob from a big pot on the stove. Then I sat down to enjoy my family.

My father marveled at my niece's fierce determination and focus as she made her way through six or seven extra-large crabs, leaving only a small pile of cleanly picked shells in front of her.

"She picks through them like a surgeon," he said. "Doesn't leave a speck of meat." Although he admired the effort, it wasn't for him: "I just don't have the patience for it."

And that's the thing about crabs. Some people relish the challenge, while others find that the payoff doesn't justify all the work. Maybe it's the puzzler in me, but I fall into the former group, using my hands, a nutcracker, a mallet and sometimes even my teeth to reach a clump of pure meat. There is something tremendously satisfying about savoring one's own effort, especially when it's dripping in melted butter.

The rewards didn't end there. For the next night, I had been asked to take an appetizer to a friend's birthday dinner. Thinking ahead, I held back some of the crab cake mixture from my family party and used it to make mini crab cakes, which I sauteed at my host's house. And all those crab shells loaded with Old Bay were used to make quarts of terrific stock, with celery, onion and thyme thrown in. I refrigerated the shells overnight in a pot with a tight-fitting lid, but you could tie them up in a double-thickness of plastic bags to keep the odor from permeating your fridge.

Freezing the stock in small amounts, say three cups, allows you to use it for a variety of applications, but I have only one in mind for summer: There's a mighty fine pot of gumbo just waiting to be made.

Recipes

Crab Hush Puppies With Old Bayonnaise

Grilled Soft-Shell Crabs With Chorizo Sauce

Breadless Crab Cakes


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