Ask a Chef: How Does Alabama Blue Crab Compare to Other Species?

When it comes to restaurant menus and supermarket counters, Alabama Gulf Seafood is usually all about fish, shrimp, and oysters.

But the real seafood lovers know that Blue Crab is just as worthy of your attention.

You may love Snow Crab legs or Stone Crab claws, but Alabama Blue Crab is one of the tastiest and most versatile seafood products you’ll ever come across. And if you’ve been settling for product from the Mid-Atlantic, Pacific Northwest, or overseas, we think you owe it to yourself to try some home cooking.

For our ongoing Ask A Chef series, we sat down with Chef David Bancroft of Acre in Auburn to discuss the many ways of enjoying Blue Crab, and why it’s a better choice than its competitors. Check out what he had to say, then pay him a visit and order some fresh Blue Crab!

Did you miss the first installment in our Ask A Chef series? Check out Why Buy Gulf Shrimp Instead of Imported Product? with Chef Jim Smith of The Hummingbird Way in Mobile!

Why is Blue Crab the only crab product harvested in Alabama waters?

My grandpa owned a fishery, so anything having to do with farming and sustainably sourcing anything in the water has always been a passion of mine. When you grow up in Alabama, you just know Blue Crab, because that’s what we have. Alabama has plenty of other species of crab, but none of them are notable enough to market. Alabama is kind of the authority on Blue Crab, and we’re better equipped for processing than just about anyone.

What are some of the more common crab competitors on the market?

You can get frozen King Crab legs or frozen Snow Crab legs at most grocery stores. But we’ve all seen the show—we know where they’re coming from. Typically you’re not gonna get foreign crab canned fresh sitting in the grocery store in Alabama, not when our waters are right here. Most of the reputable companies are intentionally supporting the local crab industry.

How does Blue Crab compare in flavor to other domestic crab products?

Blue Crab is hyper-specific to the estuaries and brackish water that it comes from. In comparison to other similar crabs that live in fresher water, Blue Crab is the king. It’s the largest species, and it’s a delicacy. If you get into the claw meat, it’s nice and sweet. If you get into the lump, you get a little bit more of a meaty texture, a nice clean flavor. If you get to the jumbo lump, it’s a very meaty, delicious crab. A lot of crabs don’t have as much to offer, which is why they just take the claws or the legs.

How many different ways can Blue Crab be processed and prepared?

As a chef, I have done Blue Crab every which way. My favorite by far starts with taking my children and nieces and nephews to go crabbing at night on the Gulf Coast. We’ll get dip nets and flood lights and go out on the beaches and bayous, then we’ll wade around, scoop up some crabs, and keep them in coolers. Then I’ll have one day where I’ll take all of the crabs we harvested (within the size limit) and I’ll boil them all with my own seasoning, then I’ll break them all down. Normally the family will give me orders—they’ll demand crab dip, or crab cakes, or crab fritters, or crab hushpuppies, whatever they like.

How did soft-shell Blue Crab become a seafood delicacy?

It’s such a unique process of nature. So many people are just mind-blown knowing that they’re eating a full crab—the pincers, the exoskeleton, everything. Except the gills and the parts that are cleaned out. There’s just nothing like it. You get a different texture but all the sweetness of the crab.

Is Blue Crab healthier than other crab products in any way?

I was kinda shocked when I found out about how many minerals are in Blue Crab. Crabmeat has a high B12 content, and it’s high in protein and other essential vitamins like zinc, Vitamin E, a little dash of Vitamin C in there. But you’re also getting low calories and low fat, so it’s very healthy and good food for you.

Why is Blue Crab from the Gulf Coast more expensive if it’s harvested so close?

Our crab industry in Alabama imports product in from Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas along with our own, and we export loads of product to areas like the Chesapeake Bay where Blue Crab was severely overharvested and they have to supplement from Gulf waters. Which has only increased the demand. So the extent to which Alabama regulates our crabbing season, for commercial or residential crabbers, is vital to the success of the crabbing industry, including the pricing. So the demand is up, and they’re willing to pay a higher price in other places, and unfortunately, that’s passed along to Alabamians.

If I buy Gulf Blue Crab, how does that impact local fishermen and processors?

In this industry, companies are handed down from generation to generation, and we can’t lose those. We can’t lose those families and lose control over the way we protect and regulate our industry. So buying from Gulf Coast processors and buying Gulf product like Blue Crab supports the whole industry, which will allow us to provide Blue Crab for the next generation.

How can I be sure my local restaurants are serving Gulf Blue Crab?

The opportunity is there to help educate local restaurants on the importance of local sourcing. But don’t shame them! Don’t attack a local restaurant because they’re trying to save money and support their staff and pay fair wages. But you can still educate them and say, “Did you know that if you had this on the menu, it would benefit our industry in these ways?” So it’s an educating process, not a reprimanding process, and I would encourage people to assist them in that way.

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