State of Play: Steamed Blue Crabs Recipe

Year Released: 2009
Directed by: Kevin MacDonald
Starring: Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren
(PG-13, 118 min.)

"Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea." Henry Fielding

This fast-paced thriller provides enough superior action, acting and atmosphere to keep you on the edge of your seat during its not quite two hour run. It’s not the adrenaline-pumping, nausea-inducing shaky camera world kill tour that The Bourne Identity franchise has morphed into – there’s no way the now pudgy Russell Crowe could keep up the pace, but he more than makes up for it with his rumpled reporter’s instincts to find out the truth no matter where it takes him.

And it takes him from the mean streets of DC to the corridors of power, where his old college roommate, now a Congressman, is struggling to survive a scandal that may well bring down his career. Just as Congressman Collins (Ben Affleck) is about to do battle with the powerful Point Corp, he learns of the apparent suicide of his research assistant, who also happens to have been his mistress.

Collins begs his old friend Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) to help him prove what he believes is her murder, and despite being involved in another street killing, Cal says he’ll do what he can. In the mean time, he dances with the local police, squeezing information out of them by pretending to know more than he does, at the same time enduring his own squeeze between ambitious young reporter Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) and his bottom line boss (Helen Mirren).

Who’s behind the young intern’s death? Well, the film trots out all the usual suspects – Point Corp, the privatized security company under Congressman Collins’ gun s as he grills them during hearings as profiteers of a “Muslim Terror Gold rush,” as well as ex-military zealots somehow at odds with the private folks (you’d think Janet Napolitano had penned part of the script), and a few tangential operators and victims such as the small time druggie/thief who made an unwise choice in lifting a certain briefcase, an addicted PR man (Jason Bateman relishing his semi-bad guy role) willing to provide a beautiful and vulnerable spy for the right price, and a sanctimonious Congressman – are there any other kind? – protecting the special interests that line his pocket. 

Not to mention Cal McAffrey’s new boss, Media Corp, a not too disguised jab at Robert Murdoch’s News Corp, which shelves journalistic sensibilities in favor of sales and scandals. And there is Cal’s assistant on the case, Della Frye, a blogger who has to learn fact checking and discretion from the old ink-stained wretch at her side.

And let’s not forget Affleck’s Congressman Collins, whose resemblance to Gary Condit of Chandra Levy fame cries for a legal disclaimer. And how ironic is it that it is today that Chandra Levy’s accused killer, an El Salvadoran immigrant, is charged with her murder. Somehow our political thriller has no use for that reality, though to be fair, the filming preceded this new turn in the case.

In any case, the usual suspects, whether they had a hand in the intern’s death or not, are all rendered guilty of some politically incorrect malfeasance. By the time all the twists and turns wind down, however, the audience is left a little winded and wondering whether the final turn quite makes sense, but it was a good ride anyway.

In particular, Crowe anchors the film with his rumpled charm and his adherence to a kind of integrity, even if it is his own particular and somewhat tarnished brand of it. Rachel McAdams has the same endearing combination of intelligence, beauty, and guts that endeared us to her in Red Eye. Mirren as his acerbic boss delights us with her self-aware bitchiness, an ability she shares with fellow Brits Judith Dench and Maggie Smith. Affleck’s Stephen Collins is rather vapid and superficial, but maybe that’s who his character is, after all. Fellow critic Debbie Schlussel is less charitable:

“The smug, pasty-faced, chubby-cheeked, one-time paramour of J-Lo plays exactly the kind of Congressman he'd be in real life: an extremely liberal, arrogant, moralizing hypocrite who cheats on his wife and is far worse than the Blackwater-like outfit he claims to be upset about.”

Unlike the political stinkers Hollywood dished up last year, this one is pretty good despite its none too subtle PC propaganda. It’s a little like the carnival that arrives early to deliver that first roller coaster heart in the mouth ride of the season. Enjoy every last curve and bottomless dive.

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

Russell Crowe’s Cal McAffrey is fond of his daily special, a chiliburger accompanied by chili fries. Somehow, the call of duty intervenes before he gets his quota this time, so his arteries will have to live one more without their infusion of grease.

Perhaps he should change his tastes and partake of the delicious local crab from the diner where he interviews a somewhat sleazy source. Maybe then he would have a better chance of running down leads without getting so out of breath.

Our recipe is for the famous soft-shelled blue crab found in Washington DC’s Chesapeake Bay. The cooking process calls for flat beer, something I’m sure Cal would have on hand.

Enjoy

Steamed Blue Crabs 

Every Chesapeake family has its own recipe for steamed crabs--actually "recipe" is a misnomer, as it is more a process rather than an exact recipe. Some insist on washing the crabs before steaming, but others claim that washing takes away the brininess of the crab. Another method is to place the live crabs in an ice water bath before cooking. This icing process numbs the crabs, making them easier to handle, keeps the crabs from losing their claws during the steaming process, and helps the seasonings stick to the shells.

  • 2 cans (12 ounces each) flat beer (see below)
  • 2 cups distilled white vinegar
  • Ice water (optional)
  • 24 live large male blue crabs(jimmies)
  • 3/4 cup Chesapeake seasoning 
  • 6 tablespoons kosher salt

Pour the beer and vinegar into a steamer pot or a large heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid. Put a round raised rack that is tall enough to clear the liquid into the pot. Bring the liquid to a boil.

While the pot is coming to a boil, fill a tub with ice water, if desired, and put the crabs in it for 3 minutes or so.

Mix the Chesapeake seasoning and salt together in a small bowl. Place a layer of crabs on the rack in the pot. Sprinkle with a generous coating of the seasoning. Working quickly, continue layering and seasoning the crabs until all the blues are in the pot and you have used up all the seasoning. Put on the lid and steam over medium-high heat until the crabs are bright red, about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the crabs with tongs.

Serve hot. Leftover crabs may be refrigerated and either eaten cold the next day or picked for crabmeat to use in your favorite recipe.

Flat Beer

Locals insist on flat beer whenever steaming crabs or shrimp. They feel flat beer does not impart the harsh, almost metallic taste that fresh beer does. To flatten beer, simply pour it into a bowl and leave it at room temperature for an hour or two. A trick the natives use to hasten the flattening process is to sprinkle a little salt into the beer--they swear it flattens the beer quicker than who-struck-John.

Recipe Source: Gardenguides.com