Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Route 11 Potato Chips Chesapeake Crab

Both my parents and my partner have long crusaded to bring an end to my sinful non-seafood-eating ways, and their latest plot was to send me crab-flavored chips, reasoning that even if I could resist eating seafood chips, I couldn’t resist eating something my mom had sent over the Atlantic.  Well, they reasoned rightly, and I could only dutifully proceed with the loathsome consumption entailed therein.
I spent a year growing up in Maryland when I was young and four more years of my life in DC (which is basically split between Maryland and Virginia), and over all that time I’ve conspicuously avoided a uniquely local contribution to snack food: Crab-flavored chips.  Marylanders are crazy about crabs, and love nothing more than indulging in a barbarous orgy of crab-dismemberment, preferably in a group involving family and friends- ripping off limbs, literally hammering the shell away with little mallets, tearing out the grotesque yellow glow-in-the-dark viscera, and sucking up the succulent white crab-meat amidst the broken bits of sea-dwelling arthropod exoskeleton. 
All before the eyes of innocent children, who are even encouraged to participate.
Think Lil Kim cutting bitches in woman's prison.
It's as if the aliens in Starship Troopers
were being sliced up by berserk marines as
opposed  to the other way around.
            Yes, you may have gathered I am not a great fan of this custom, (nor seafood eating in general, as I have previously alluded), but to a Marylander, nothing quite approaches the pure bliss of crab eating short of making love on a summer beach, with or without crabs.  I do not disparage Marylanders in making this observation, as my French father became a convert to their ways, and to this day fondly sports a giant photograph of Maryland crab with a beer can crushed between its pincers in his university office.
I wasn't kidding about the seasoning being 'caked'.  Plus:
the yellow crab viscera.  "The horror..." as Colonel Kurtz
(aka Marlon Brando) would whisper... Illustrative photos
courtesy of Insatiably Healthy.
           Cue the surprise revelation: ‘crab’ chips are actually ‘crab seasoning’ chips.  No, I was not entirely taken by surprise by this, but my anxiety about the degree of sea-foodishness of the flavoring has been settled for now- these chips are meant to simulate the red seasoning powder that is liberally caked on the crabs (and I use the word caked with little exaggeration.)  Now, for all my negative childhood associations with the seasoning, ‘Old Bay spice’ (as in Chesapeake Bay), is actually rather similar to Cajun spices in my experience, and is an intriguing pretty red color.  The spice has been sufficiently popularized around Maryland state that they pretty much apply it to everything, which is why you get the ‘Crab Chips’.
The Old Bay seasoning- rumor has it
it they mix in real Old Bay sand from
the sea floor for that authentic maritime
flavor.
The overwhelming flavor of Bay spice?  Celery salt!  Now, I am also not a big fan of celery salt (as an upcoming review of Monoprix’s ‘Tomato’ flavored Tortillas Enroulee will discuss), but here it is tastefully applied and blended with enough other spices, most obviously red and black pepper, paprika, cloves, and allspice, that I felt myself genuinely compelled to enjoy them.  Note that the traditional ‘Old Bay’ spice incorporates all of those flavors, in addition to cardamom, nutmeg, mace, mustard seed, bayleaf, and ginger, so there’s likely even more seasonings going on under the hood.  (The ingredients list rather curtly lists ‘spices’ and ‘paprika’, which is a curious distinction…)  You may have intiuited that the chips are spicy based on the ingredients, and they do in fact ignite a definite back-of-the-throat burn, but nothing too intense- just the right level to please without going over into runny-nose territory.
The crisps themselves are small (between 1 ½ and 2 inches in diameter) but very high quality- thick and crunchy (the French word ‘craquant’, cracking comes to mind), baked dark brown onthe edges, colored a natural orange color by the seasonings, and sprinkled with large flecks of dried green herbs (celery I assume?).  While I usually prefer larger crisps, the quality level of the texture and baking (which was apparently done using peanut oil) interested me in trying other Route 11 crisps.  The chips themselves are also wheat- and gluten-free, and contain no trans fats, though the calorie count is par for the course when it comes to chips.
After the VMI cadets repelled
a Union attack at New Market
in the Shenandoah Valley, the
Union Army retaliated by burning
down the school, thereby realizing
the arson-laden dreams of my
childhood.
Route 11 apparently comes from Shenandoah Valley, Virginia which is pretty uambiguously inland from the coast, being between two great mountain ranges- besides being beautifully scenic, the valley was the sight of a number of smaller-scale Civil War battles.  Clearly, though, the coastal influences have forced even 'real Virginians' to cater to the coastal tastes of 'Communist Country', as McCain’s brother once put it,  with sterling results.
So, for a flavoring concept that I was never very comfortable with to begin with, I was rather impressed by the quality of Route 11’s crab chips.  I can’t say they’ve converted me to Crab seasoning or Crab-eating, but they demonstrated their relative virtues- I’ll keep a more open mind about other Bay-spice flavored snacks in the future- impressing me both by their mix of seasoning and the excellent crunchiness and texture of the crisps.

Stars: 2 ½
Spiciness: Moderate

Pros:
- While I’m no expert about crab seasoning, it definitely smells and looks right!
- The seasoning is excellently distributed, and an artful blend of many different flavors
- Crunchiness, visual appeal, and texture of the crisps is superb

Cons:
- The Celery salt-averse may find it less to their taste, as would those who want a 'fishier' flavor
- Crisps are fairly small

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