Not The Target Market

A Jonah Day

Jonah Crab claws

A “Jonah Day” is called a Jonah Day because of Jonah in the Old Testament. To recap: Jonah refused to do what God wanted (go east to Nineveh to preach repentance.) Instead he rushed onto the first ship could find heading west.

Whereupon there was a terrible storm and Jonah confessed to the captain and crew, as the ship was sinking, that it was all his fault, as he was fleeing the Lord. The captain and crew did the only sensible thing and threw Jonah overboard. Whereupon he was swallowed by a “great fish” and spent three days not being digested. After which, the fish, who by then had had enough of the lump in his tummy, and with the Lord’s encouragement, vomited Jonah out on to a beach. Near Nineveh. Where found himself preaching, after all.

A Jonah Day, then, is a day when everything goes wrong. Spectacularly wrong.  So wrong that you end up as fish vomit.  But does it have to be this way? I propose that a Jonah Day could also be a very unexpectedly tasty, yummy kind of day.

It happened like this: The Hunter and I were at the grocery store, waiting in an endless line at the deli. There were only two clerks on, neither of who seemed to have an urgent bone in their bodies. The manager, instead of jumping in to help, flitted about taking inventory in the cheese case. I was losing my mind. The Hunter, sensing danger, decided to take a tour of the adjoining seafood area. After a bit he came back with a five-pound bag of crab claws that were about the same price as a pound of king crab legs. We both love crab, so of course the bag went into the cart.

At home we examined these fat and beautiful claws more carefully. They were labeled “Jonah Crab,” a type neither of us had heard of. But, we live in the age of Google, so our ignorance didn’t last long.

This is what we found: Jonah crabs (cancer borealis) are indigenous to North America and found from the coast of North Carolina to Maine, although they are most regularly caught along the Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York seaboards.

Jonahs get their name because they get into lobster traps and eat up all the bait. The lobster fishermen don’t take kindly to this. The crabs take up space in the traps that is required for other purposes – namely profitable lobsters. When lobster pots hold crabs, not lobsters, lobster fishermen lose money and understandably feel cursed and jinxed by the intruders. The crabs get tossed out. Probably with some naughty words. Rather like Jonah in the Bible.

Some years ago in a spirit of “if you can’t beat them, join them,” an enterprising lobsterman decided to see how trash these crabs actually were and boiled some up. The verdict: not trash at all. He found that Jonah crabmeat is actually very sweet and flaky.

And we agreed. I would put Jonah crabmeat up against any variety of crab in a taste contest. And most people who try them seem to feel the same way. But, the trouble is that not many people get to try them. They are not widely known and they don’t show up on a lot of menus because they are still overcoming their “trash fish” reputation.

It’s only a matter of time. Those fancy, dancy lobsters were once considered only fit for prisoners and servants. The day will undoubtedly come when people will name Jonah crabs as the Atlantic’s answer to the Pacific’s Dungeness, and then they will be on every menu. In the meantime, take advantage of the fact that they haven’t made it onto the trendy radar yet and are still relatively inexpensive. If you see them, try them.

Scores in Jonah Crab Claws

The claws look thick and difficult to crack, but they are not. Before they are packaged, the claws are scored. I read that you could slip a butter knife into the score, gently turn the knife and the shell will separate cleanly. Don’t believe this. You will bend your butter knife while the crab claw will stay intact. Just go for a nut- or lobster cracker and you will be fine.

If you add a nice unoaked chardonnay to the spread, you will continue to be fine. And as you continue to be fine, sipping and savoring the incredibly sweet Jonah crabmeat, you can reflect on what a nice sort of Jonah day you are having.


  1. Barbara Cole

    Of course this got my attention. You’ve had my sweet and delectable Chesapeake Bay Blue crabs. (Technically, they are probably Maryland blue crabs, but I don’t like Maryland and, in fact, mine are caught in Virginia waters.) I have difficulty believing anything matches. Does one eat only claws from the Jonah crab? Were they boiled or steamed?

    1. Elizabeth (Post author)

      Your sweet and delectable Chesapeake Blue crabs are fabulous – but I can only eat them when I’m down with you; Jonah crabs will tide me over between visits! We bought them frozen, but they had been previously steamed. We just had to thaw them. Only legs and claws are sold. Apparently the body doesn’t have enough meat to bother with.

  2. Your Brother

    I think it is deplorable that you have cheap butter knives. Fix this.


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