Here in The Bahamas, summertime arrives in swarms of feisty red and black crabs, and every island kid knows that it’s time to grab a bucket or a crocus sack and catch da crabs crawlin’. The docks and fishermen’s markets will be piled high with traps full to bursting with native crustaceans, and soon enough, pots will steam with one of the most popular dishes in the country: Crab & Rice! As a hearty rendition of Bahamian Peas & Rice with the addition of crab fat, shell, and meat, Crab & Rice is a truly delicious native dish that might very well entice you to grab your own bucket and sign up for the next crab catching event.
Origins Of Crab & Rice
Credit: Eat The Caribbean
Crab & Rice is a very prized dish throughout the The Bahamas but although it was perfected here, the origins of the dish have roots elsewhere. The dish appears to have migrated to the Bahamian islands with African-American slaves from the Gullah region of the Southern United States. The Gullah people experienced a period of relative isolation and thus retained a rich West-African culture steeped in seafood and rice-based cuisine- a facet that was passed down to Bahamian descendants when they were brought here by the American Loyalists following the American Revolutionary War in the 18th Century. Other Caribbean Islands with Gullah influences, such as Trinidad and Tobago, and Jamaica also share this culinary-likeness and utilize black and red land crabs in local dishes such as Crab & Callaloo and Crab & Dumplings. We Bahamians continue to make Crab & Rice pot- close variation of the Gullah dish called Crab Fried Rice.
What’s In Crab & Rice?
Bahamian cuisine is extremely versatile, and Crab & Rice is probably one of the tastiest testimonies to that statement! The base of the dish is very similar to Bahamian Peas & Rice, using tomato products, black pigeon peas (also used in common Bahamian soups) and vegetables like onions and green bell peppers. However, instead of using salted pork fat or bacon as a fat base, crab & rice relies on the fat of the land crab fat for its rich flavour.
Black and red land crabs are terrestrial crustaceans that can be found throughout the Greater and Lesser Antilles. They are small crabs that are born in water, but when they migrate towards land, they literally turn the roads red and black with their numbers! On Bahamian Family Islands like Long Island, Exuma, and Andros (check out the island’s Crab Fest in June), drivers are forced to come to literally come to a halt on the streets in order to to allow the baby crabs to cross the road safely. Baby crabs mature in about 3 years and islanders are respectful of the crabs’ migrational habits. Since the adult black and red crabs are nocturnal, crab catching is done at night, and is a fun pastime where your labours will be bountifully rewarded when the crab pen is full of juicy crabs soon to be boiled in rice or stew!
Variations Of The Dish
Credit: Epicurean Travels
Black and red land crabs are readily available during the summer months on almost every island here in The Bahamas, so we definitely have a repertoire of other crab-based recipes apart from Crab & Rice that we draw upon! The most popular dish has to be Bahamian Crab & Dough, which features an oven-baked bread dough (instead of rice) steamed atop a layer of segmented crab in the shell. Crabs are also cooked with Peas & Grits- a variation of Peas & Rice that uses native yellow corn grits instead of rice- and this combo is amazing for a Bahamian Breakfast option.
Whether you’re cooking Crab & Rice, Crab & Dough, or Crab & Grits, you’d best be sure to have a main meat or fish dish prepared to go with it because even though we add crab to the rice itself- this flavourful concoction is still considered a side order only. Often, Crab & Rice is served alongside “steamed” chicken, fish, or mutton (a Bahamian tomato-based gravy), and several other Bahamian favourites like Macaroni & Cheese, coleslaw, fried plantains, and potato salad.
Where To Find Crab & Rice In Nassau
Credit: The Government of The Bahamas
Finding red or black land crabs outside of the Caribbean can be challenging, so this unique dish should definitely be on your ‘must-eat’ list when visiting the Bahama islands. Although more prevalent on Bahamas Out Island menus and in local homes on Sunday afternoons, thankfully, a few restaurants in Nassau do serve the delicacy! Keep in mind, Crab & Rice is a seasonal dish, so the item may not be available during cooler times of the year, but when it is offered here are some of the best places to find Bahamian Crab & Rice during your stay:
How To Prepare Bahamian Crab & Rice At Home
Credit: Monalisa Hanna
Another thing we love about Bahamian Crab & Rice- it’s super easy to prepare. In fact, the most challenging part of the process is managing to place the crab in the pot while keeping all of your fingers attached (just kidding!). Our suggestion is to purchase crabs that are already cleaned and segmented (ask your seller or fisherman) to save you even more time in the kitchen. Here’s what you’ll need for some good ‘ole Bahamian Crab & Rice:
8 black/red land crabs
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 white onion, diced
½ green bell pepper, diced
2 tbsp fresh thyme
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp black pepper
2 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ goat pepper (scotch bonnet) or habanero pepper, diced
½ cup tomato paste
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
5 cups water
1 cup pigeon peas (gongo beans), boiled and tender
2 ½ cups long-grain rice
Preparing The Crabs:
Wash crabs under tap using a toothbrush until completely clean. Turn each crab over so that its underbelly is facing up and use a butter knife so split the shell in two by pushing upward at the seam. Pull apart and scoop the fat (orange-brown in colour) from both sides of the shell into a bowl. Discard the empty half shell, band, mouth, gills and all other remaining internal organs. Separate each toe and claw at the joint by snapping each segment, or chop with a cleaver.
Making The Rice:
Place a large pot over medium high heat and add the vegetable oil. Once the oil is hot, add onions, green bell pepper, thyme, salt, black pepper, bay leaves, garlic, and goat pepper to the pot and sautee for 3 minutes or until onion is transparent. Add the crab fat and segments and sautee, stirring constantly until fat liquefies, for about 7 minutes. Add tomato paste and diced tomatoes and stir ingredients together for another 5 minutes. Add the water and stir, bringing the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, pour pigeon peas and rice into the pot and stir to allow all the ingredients to distribute evenly. Cover tightly and lower the heat, allowing the ingredients to simmer for 20-25 minutes. Do not lift lid while cooking as the steam needs to remain in the pot to cook the crab sufficiently. After 25 minutes, turn heat off and let rice stand covered for 10-15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Serve hot as a side dish and enjoy!