This is the way they're done in the great crab houses of Maryland.
water and vinegar
for the spice mixture
3 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 small dried red chilies
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons coriander
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon allspice
8 bay leaves
2 tablespoons celery seed
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon dill seed
1 teaspoon salt
24 large, live blue crabs
1. Place enough water and vinegar, in equal proportions, in the bottom of a large, wide steamer. Place steamer over high heat, and bring the liquid to a boil.
2. While the liquid is coming to a boil, make the spice mixture: Place all the ingredients for the spice mixture in a spice grinder and grind until a coarse powder is formed.
3. Place one fourth of the live crabs in the sink and douse them with cold water. Sprinkle one fourth of the spice mixture over all, making as much of the mixture as possible stick to the crabs. Place the crabs in a steamer rack, and place rack over boiling liquid. Cook until just done, about 15 minutes. Repeat with the remaining crabs, either by piling up more steamer racks on the same steamer base or by reusing the same steamer rack.
4. Serve immediately.
A simple recipe -- but very different from the plain boiled crabs. Here, the crabs get a thick, spicy paste on the outside and, so that the paste sticks, the crabs are steamed rather than boiled. This is the way they're done in the great crab houses of Maryland. Then, the crabs are served hot, right out of the steamer -- which means they're as juicy as can be. Our recipe includes our own homemade seasoning mixture for the crabs; if you prefer, however, you could substitute 12 tablespoons of Old Bay's widely available spice mixture for crabs. Makes enough crabs for 4 moderately hungry diners at a crab dinner