Smitten with the mitten?

August 10, 2006|By ROB HIAASEN | ROB HIAASEN,SUN REPORTER

Gee, we think it's kind of cute -- in an invasive, hairy, burrowing, delicacy-in-Asia kind of way.

Yet, the Mid-Atlantic is thumbing its crab mallet at the latest thing to wash up in our waters: the Chinese mitten crab, a.k.a. hairy crab (species: E. unappetizis). Beyond a shadow of DNA doubt, two mitten crabs were caught near the mouth of the Patapsco River. Visiting Chinese crab experts were consulted. The state issued alerts. Like the snakehead before it, the mitten crab made Maryland's Most Unwanted List.

And why -- because if the crab makes baby mitten crabs, it could muck up our riverbanks, and generally make a pest of itself? When are we going to stop thinking about what's best for the environment and start concentrating on what's best for our stomachs?

"Eat the Invading Alien Crabs, Urge U.K. Scientists," was a headline on the National Geographic Web site. In the article, a zoologist at London's Natural History Museum had been asked about the mitten crab's appeal. "The Chinese love them, especially when they're full of gonads during the breeding season."

Start boiling the water!

Couple that description with other mitten crab-eating reports that feature such words as "slimy," "oozing" and "creepy," and you have a recipe for great mitten crab! Just crack then comb the legs for a delicious Po'Boy mitten crab or mitten crab steamed in banana leaves or laced with Cognac!

Let's ask an expert.

"It would take a lot of Old Bay and beer to get one down. Those are ugly things," says Joe Anderson, manager and chef at Cantler's Riverside Inn near Annapolis. Because chefs often have their own language, we will recap Anderson's advice: lots of Old Bay and beer. "Yup, and hope for the best."

In closing, we can't help think prejudice and envy are behind our fear of the mitten crab. Is it because this species is considered an aphrodisiac in Asia? Because the crab (can we say this in a family newspaper?) is catadromous? Translation: they live in fresh water but reproduce in salt water, and that's just wrong.

Or is it because the crab resembles our middle school shop teacher?

Finally, the truth.

rob.hiaasen@baltsun.com

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