from Chef Bill Smith, Crook’s Corner, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
½ pound sidemeat or fatback
2 medium onions, peeled and cut into large dice
2 dozen hard crabs, cleaned and halved
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 bay leaves
1 teaspoon thyme
6 baking-size potatoes, peeled and cut into eighths
¾ cup all-purpose corn meal, stirred into two cups of cold water
Salt and pepper to taste
Sliced grocery-store white bread
Render the sidemeat in a large stockpot. Do this slowly, as it has a low smoking point and you want to extract as much fat as possible before it gets too brown. It will resemble crisp bacon in color when ready.
Add the onions and sauté until soft but not brown.
Add the crabs and cover with cold water. Add the red pepper flakes, bay, and thyme. Bring to a boil, then turn back to a simmer. Cook for half an hour.
Add the potatoes. Cook until they are well done, fifteen to twenty minutes more.
Turn up the heat a little (but you don’t want a hard boil) and stir in the corn meal-water mixture. This will be a little difficult because of the crabs. You need to mix this in thoroughly.
Bring back to a simmer until the stew begins to thicken. Taste for salt and pepper. Sometimes the sidemeat will be saltier than others.
To serve, put a slice or two of bread in the bottom of large soup bowls and ladle the stew, crabs and all, on top. Claw crackers are handy—we used to get yelled at for cracking the claws with our teeth.