Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods fame has made his name eating food that most westerners would run screaming from. In one episode, he visits Phuket, Thailand and eats a small crustacean called “Sea Cicada” by the locals. They are apparently found only on certain Phuket beaches and are considered something of a delicacy when fried. The funny thing was that they looked exactly like the creatures we remembered digging up from the water’s edge as children.
After a bit of research, we found that they are indeed the same animal, of the genus Emeritus, also known as the Sand or Mole Crab. On Martha’s Vineyard, they are usually called “Sand Fleas”, but this term is also used to describe any number of small biting flea, shrimp and fly-like critters. In the interest of keeping things at least moderately appetizing, lets call them Mole Crabs from now on.
We were unable to find any Islanders that would admit to having eaten them, so we turned to the Internet for information and, hopefully, recipes. Apparently, they make fantastic fishing bait, specifically for Redfish and Pompano. We found this really detailed blog with instructions on how to catch and use Mole Crabs here. We also found a few people who also had seen the aforementioned episode of bizarre Foods discussing recipes for fried mole crabs, mostly on fishing forums.
Armed with this information, we hit South Beach (the real one, not that pretender in Florida) with a couple buckets, looking for dinner. At first, the pickings were slim, but after checking with the kids who were building sand castles, we determined that we needed to dig closer to the water, and soon found all the little clawless crabs we could possibly want.
Once we got them home, we cleaned them by twisting off the digging appendage (the large pointy thing) and giving them a thorough rinsing. Mole Crabs can vary greatly in size, and the smaller they are, the harder they are to clean, with less potential reward.
Some people advise removing the shells entirely, but that seemed like way too much work and others claim that it’s not necessary.
Deciding to keep it simple, we heated some oil and prepared a cornmeal batter to dip them in. In a minute or two, they were golden brown and actually looked pretty tasty. With a bit of trepidation, we bit in. The shells were very crunchy, but not unpleasant, and far more edible than expected. Many people, Mr. Zimmern included, have described the flavor of Mole Crabs as falling somewhere between that of shrimp and soft-shell crab. We found that description to be a bit optimistic. The consistency of the meat certainly was a bit softer than shrimp and vaguely reminiscent of soft-shell crab, but the flavor wasn’t really crabby.
Maybe it was a function of the batter we tried, which wasn’t our favorite, but we thought they tasted like bad frozen popcorn shrimp from a second tier fast-food joint, perhaps this one, or some other restaurant with a vaguely nautical theme.
All in all, we’re glad we tried them, but we probably wouldn’t go through the trouble again. They were certainly edible, and perhaps with a better batter they might even be considered good, but they don’t really seem worth the effort. On the other hand, it is fun to be able to dig up strange animals and bring them home and eat them, so we’ll keep this one in the repertoire in case a Zombie Apocalypse or other such crisis breaks out.
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