Barbecued Crabs: The Secret Recipe
When barbecued crabs were invented, there were only three ingredients required to make them: blue crabs, hot cooking oil and the now-discontinued Alamo Zestful Seasoning mix. These days, what exactly went in the seasoning mix is unknown. I have been working on my own barbecue crab seasoning recipe lately. Lots of other people are working on cracking this secret recipe too. That's because the dish is enjoying a revival, and several restaurants over in Beaumont are challenging Sartin's in a barbecued crab power struggle. Who has the best seasoning mix may determine the outcome.
Photos by Robb Walsh
Legend has it that when barbecued crabs were invented at Granger's Restaurant in Sabine Pass in the 1940s, the chef used Alamo Zestful Seasoning. Granger's burned down in 1958. In 1971, Sartin's began selling barbecued crabs in Sabine Pass. Alamo Zestful Seasoning was a Sexton brand by that time, and for many years Sartin's was the largest buyer. When Sexton was sold in 1983, the spice mix was discontinued. Sartin's hired Bolner's Fiesta Brand Seasonings in San Antonio to analyze and duplicate the Alamo Zestful Seasoning formula. Fiesta Bar-B-Que Crab Seasoning is one of several Alamo Zestful Seasoning copycats that have come along over the years. All of them contain salt and sugar, and some of them contain a lot of MSG.
According to another story in the Blue Crab Archives, there was a restaurant called Mama's under a big bridge in Port Arthur that served highly regarded barbecued crabs in the 1960s. A Port Arthur native named Pappy Painton claims that after a long night of drinking, he managed to get the cook to disclose the secret recipe. The crabs at Mama's were cleaned, then soaked in a Liquid Smoke and water mixture, then dipped in Alamo Zestful Seasoning and deep-fried.
I was trying to create a barbecued crab seasoning mix recipe with some of that smoky flavor but none of the Liquid Smoke or MSG. My favorite used smoked pimenton, Spanish smoked paprika, for the smokey taste. It gives the crabs a great flavor, but it's unlikely to catch on -- commercial seasoning blenders can't afford to use expensive smoked pimenton.
Barbecued crabs recipe, after the jump.
To make your own barbecued crabs seasoning at home, try mixing Old Bay half and half with sugar. Then add some smoked pimento if you have any.
Cover crabs in ice until they are dormant and easy to handle, about 10 minutes. Rip off the top shell. Remove the mouth and sex organs. Remove the gills and tear out the guts under running water. Break the crab body in half to expose the meat. Leave the legs and claws attached. Dip the crab in the seasoning mix and hold in the refrigerator. Repeat for each crab.
When the crabs are cleaned and seasoned, heat oil to 350° and deep fry the seasoned crab bodies for 3 to 5 minutes until cooked through. Remove from oil and sprinkle with more seasoning mix. Serve hot.