Shucking a blue crab takes time and two hands. You sit there, picking out the little morsels of sweet lump crab between bits of shell and casing and time evaporates. Your fingers are caked in Old Bay — they’ll smell for a good day — and so there’s no chance you’ll reach for your phone to check something or idle over instagram. Instead, conversation ebbs and flows. A cicada’s buzz crescendoes, then abruptly disappears. Mosquitos nip at the ankles and elbows and beads of condensation drip down the side of your beer. It is hot and humid and the air swells thick around you — but you don’t much mind: you’ve grown up in this sticky-thick heat and it feels like home. Your husband and father-in-law are such die-hard fans of the Washington Nationals that they play the games over a small, dated radio with long rabbit ear antenna wedged into a boxwood bush right by the outdoor table around which you are all sprawled, some pausing from the feast to lean back and make a half-formed comment about the neighbors’ new addition, others reaching for a fresh crab. And so the crack of a ball hitting a bat, the muted roar of the crowd, the torpid song of cicadas, the rise and fall of conversation become the soundtrack to summer evenings spent around blue crabs in the mid-Atlantic. Your in-laws are such purists in the art of the blue crab that they refuse to serve anything alongside them — no potatoes, no bread, no hush puppies, no nothing. Just a bushel or two of blue crabs, the bigger and the later in the season the better, and little cups of malt vinegar and excess Old Bay to further dress the already deeply-seasoned steamed crabs. (“No self-respecting Virginian puts drawn butter on a blue crab,” I learned from them. Lobster, yes. King crab, yes. Blue crab, no.) You don’t use mallets — that’s for tourists. You use the dull edge of a knife to help with some aspects of separating and cleaning the shell, and crackers for the claws, but mainly it’s finger-work, and it’s learned and tedious and — in the way of all handiwork — vaguely therapeutic.
I am missing a blue crab dinner right now. I am missing all pastimes that happen out of doors and most especially with family. And man what I’d give for a freshly-steamed blue crab.
In absentia, a damn good substitute: a recipe from my mother-in-law that we’ve always called “BBQ shrimp,” but that is nearer in ethos to an indoor crab boil. We can’t be purists about this, though: you’ll need lots of crusty bread to soak up the pan juice. Aside from the bread, this can principally be made with items in your pantry, some bacon, and a big bag of frozen shrimp (all stuff that will keep well in the current situation — bacon freezes beautifully, too). It’s best eaten right out of the baking dish, possibly seated on the floor around a coffee table, with a couple cold beers and your significant other.
Preheat oven to 375. Fry three slices chopped bacon. Add two sticks butter, 2 tablespoons dijon mustard, 1.5 teaspoons chili powder, ¼ teaspoon dried basil, ¼ teaspoon dried thyme, 1 teaspoons pepper, ½ teaspoon dried oregano, 2 cloves crushed garlic, 2 tablespoons Old Bay, and ½ teaspoon Tabasco.
Place 1.5 pounds of shell-on shrimp in baking dish. Coat with sauce and bake 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve with crusty bread and paper towels.
P.S. Old Bay seasoning is a pantry staple for those of us from the mid-Atlantic, but you can order it on Amazon if you don’t have it on hand. It’s essential to the dish. It’s also great on roasted potatoes/fries and lots of fish/chicken dishes. I used to sneak it into everything, but I particularly remember spiking my homemade chex mix with it, much to the delight of my fellow Washingtonian friends.
What else are y’all cooking?!
+Another one of my favorite easy weeknight meals and a roundup of some of our favorite, heavy-in-rotation dinner menus.
+One thing this pandemic has taught us: resourcefulness in the kitchen and how to be even more organized around meal-planning. Food has been a bit challenging to come by in Manhattan. We are trying desperately not to leave our apartment but food delivery services are overburdened, and we’re lucky to get a delivery once every seven to ten days at the moment. I’m reminded of my former tremendous, gluttonous privilege in being able to stop by the grocery any time of day to pick up last minute ingredients or to idle over the produce section. And I consider us fairly well-practiced at planning ahead! This is how it happens, indeed…
+Mr. Magpie’s two quarantine splurges have been a new set of fancy speakers for our living room TV from Kef (he’s kind of an audio geek, and these are crazy fancy) and a Cuckoo rice cooker. I love him so much for deriving so much joy from these purchases — they really give you a window into his personality, don’t they?
+10 things you need in your kitchen.
+Urgent: this adorable Banjanan dress is only $117!!!
+Recent Amazon order: Bambas peanut puffs (both my children love these), a Frozen doll for mini (not slated to arrive until the end of the month and not sure when I’ll give this to her but she loves her Elsa doll so much that this will be just the best, greatest windfall of her life the day I decide she needs a special treat…which I’m estimating will be around the end of the month, when we will have been quarantined for over six weeks), left-handed children’s scissors for mini, Muji facial cotton (I’m normally a die-hard fan of Shiseido’s stuff, but had to try this per the rec of a reader!), and a second mini-cutting board, which sounds crazy but Mr. Magpie and I are nearly always competing for its use, as he’s nearly always prepping a cocktail and in need of a small cutting board for citrus and I’m nearly always prepping the children’s dinners, and need to dice things into small pieces.
+So in love with the print on these indoor/outdoor pillows! Look far more expensive than $28!
+Adore this fun clutch, especially with a LWD!
+These plates are absolutely gorgeous.
+These fun personalized canvas totes take major cues from Chanel. I like the solid yellow.
+OK, this $15 dress for a little one is too, too sweet. Love it in both colorways!
+Guaranteed to make your bathroom feel like you live in a hotel.
+A Staub cocotte is a must-have in our kitchen, used at least once a week I want to say? Maybe more often. Currently on insane sale for $100, down from $400+.
+While we’re looking at SLT, also in love with these melamine trays and bowls (great for toddler snacks) for summer.
+The cutest nursing pillow covers — I got several from here for micro and mini. Love this and this in particular. I’m feeling wistful about this as just yesterday I was in Hill’s nursery and I realized I still have his Boppy in there and it should be tossed, because we haven’t used it for months. For awhile, I liked to feed him his bottles nestled in there, but no more. I also cannot bear to get rid of his wubbanubs though he hasn’t used those since he was maybe three months. Oh, I am a basket case about him getting older…
+To assuage the stabs of grief: let’s drool over this ditsy dress (on sale!!), this breezy cover-up, this stunner (40% off), and this stunning maxi skirt (also 40% off).
+My favorite red wine glasses are on sale here.
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13 thoughts on “Indoor Shrimp BBQ.”
Those Lily & Bean totes are absolutely adorable, and I had never heard of the brand! I think I’ve found the perfect quarantine pick-me-up!
Yay! The brand is a new discovery for me, too 🙂 xx
Just checking back to thank you so much for this shrimp recipe. Made it for an easy non-traditional Easter dinner and it was delicious! Will definitely make again. Hope you had a fun Easter despite the strange circumstances 🙂
Oh yay!! I am so glad to hear this — can’t tell you how happy that makes me. We also had to go non-traditional, eating one of our favorite pasta dishes (orecchiette with rabe and sausage) instead of the feast of lamb/ham, carrots, potatoes, etc we usually feature. The point, though, is celebration, and it felt special anyhow. xx
The shrimp recipe sounds delicious! I just added Old Bay to our pending grocery order. Would it work with frozen shell-off shrimp? That’s what I have right now. Like others, trying to use what’s here rather than buying more. Love your blog, thanks for always sharing such lovely content 🙂
Yay! It would absolutely work with shell-off shrimp! A little less messy, too 🙂 Gotta make do with what you have. Enjoy, friend!! xx
I like the sound of this shrimp recipe, but I LOVE your evocative description of your in-laws’ blue crab dinner! Although I grew up in the northernmost part of the mid-Atlantic, I have family in Baltimore and so this scene is familiar to and nostalgic for me. Also: using Old Bay in homemade Chex Mix?! Genius. I must try this at some point!
Loving that Agua Bendita mini!
Love it – you totally know what I’m talking about!
Would love more of your go to recipes!!! I have already made the easy weeknight meal you posted about 4 or 5 times and my husband and son both love it!
Kate! Thank you so much for the suggestion. I’ll be sharing more of these. So glad your boy liked the couscous salad! So satisfying, and I love being able to make it ahead of time.
That little H&M dress is such a good find! I keep buying summer clothes for the baby, who already has an entire hand me down wardrobe, instead of for the toddler, who has approximately 3 summer clothing items so far. Whoops! Also, that recipe sounds delish. We have been eating leftovers for the last several days so I’m def ready for something new. I feel really bad letting any food go to waste right now but man I will be glad to say BYE to these meatballs
I hear you – we’ve been in the same boat, trying to make the absolute most of what we have / make meals streeeetch, but we are so used to variety!!
I am having the inverse problem, buying too many sweet things for mini and virtually nothing for my baby boy, and every time I turn around, he’s a new size. AHHH.