By Lolis Eric Elie
Our show is the product of a mixed marriage.
Baltimoreans of ‘The Wire’ and ‘The Corner’ fame have joined New Orleanians to produce ‘Treme.’ (We have a few Angelenos thrown in for good measure, but isn’t there already enough about those people on other television blogs?) It had been our fondest hope that our relative mettles would be tested on the gridiron in a Ravens-Saints Super Bowl contest. However, owing to a pair of heartbreaking playoff losses, that competition was not to be. So we resolved to settle our differences at table in a boiled-versus-steamed battle of the crabs.
Unit production manager Joe Incaprera, a Baltimore native, manned the steamer while locations scout Charlie Brown, a transplanted Pennsylvanian, and his friend Jason Watson, did the boiling. The Baltimore method of crab preparation consists of steaming the crabs over water and vinegar and dousing them with a generous measure of Old Bay Seasoning and salt. The New Orleans method consists of boiling the crabs in water seasoned with Zatarain’s Crab Boil, celery, lemons, onions, garlic, bay leaves and other seasonings of the chef’s choice. (Far be it from me, dear reader, to seek to influence your opinion, but certainly a point or two must be given to the New Orleanians for the sheer number of ingredients and the resulting complexity of flavor.) Potatoes, corn and sausage are usually boiled at the same time as the crabs. Charlie added Jerusalem artichokes to the pot, an innovation that we would be wise to make standard.
Virginia McCollam, our locations manager, hosted the event and grilled corn so sweet that it was scarcely to be believed.
“The key to steaming blue crabs and what makes them so good is that the crabs never touch the water. They sit on a raised rack in the covered pot with each layer of crabs covered in Old Bay,” Joe said.
“The meat comes out hot and sweet but not mushy or soggy,” he said. “Steaming doesn’t affect the genuine taste of the crab. Boiling reduces the potency of the flavor. As you open and pick the steamed crabs your fingers become covered in the Old Bay seasoning which adds to the flavor of each lump of meat. You can also lightly dip the meat in some drawn butter for a nice finishing touch.”
“We like boiling because it's different every time you do it,” Charlie said. “There's a sense of authorship to every boil, because so much goes into the pot, and the recipe is determined by whatever ingredients are on hand. When boiling multiple batches, one after another, flavors can be built up and altered from batch to batch, so no two batches are ever the same. In addition to what you've already listed we also threw in pineapple, mushrooms, corn, lemons, limes, a six pack of Abita beer, shrimp, and edamame.”
According to the Baltimoreans, the steamed crabs were judged the favorites because there were fewer of them left once the shells had settled.
Not all present concurred. “The only reason that boiled crabs were left over was because of all of the other yummy consumables--our boil is a full meal!” Virginia said.
Whenever the comity of our blended family is threatened, it falls to the executive producer to restore us to an era of good feelings. So a few days after the boil, executive producer Nina Noble took the leftover crabs and made a pot of Maryland Crab Soup, a tomato-based crab and vegetable soup, which she served on set Wednesday.
“The soup was made with both steamed and boiled crabs,” Nina said. “The idea was to create a communion between our two cultures, just as we do on the show. While Maryland crab soup is always delicious, it was surely made better with the addition of the New Orleans boiled crabs. I saw it as more of a truce.”
“I have to say the steamed crab was delicious, as was Nina's soup!” Virginia said.
In the unlikely event that the Saints and Ravens don’t meet in the 2012 Super Bowl, we have agreed to a rematch next year. Keep your crab mallets poised.