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Who’s Cooking: Lidia Szczepanowski

Lidia Szczepanowski holds a plate of boiled blue

Lidia Szczepanowski holds a plate of boiled blue crabs served with a side of garlic butter, on the dock overlooking the water at her home in Westhampton Beach on July 6, 2017. Photo Credit: Daniel Brennan

Lidia Szczepanowski, an attorney and newly crowned “Ms. World Elite 2017,” lives in Dix Hills and Westhampton Beach with her husband and three children. You can read more about her at everythinglidia.com.

You grew up on Long Island?

I was born in Huntington Hospital. I spent my entire life boating out of Huntington Harbor. I’ve been fishing since I was a kid. We used a pitchfork to get steamers and clams. We’d dig our own worms for bait. Eel catching was the best. My dad, a Polish immigrant, used to hang them in the garage and smoke them.

You are an attorney, a beauty pageant winner, a dress designer, and the author of an upcoming book that includes quite a bit of fish cookery. How do you do it all?

It’s the beauty of being a modern day Renaissance woman! I grew up as a tomboy. I was always athletic and into sports. But I always liked to dress up. At a certain point, I felt that I needed a little bit of “me” time. I entered my first pageant, Mrs. New York America, when I was 41 years old. Someone I knew had competed and said how much fun it was, and I thought I could use a little glamour in my life. I won, by the way.

And you also teach women’s safety awareness?

I’m a black belt in karate. I teach a seminar called “Stylish Safety” at colleges and high schools, to women’s groups. I wear a little black dress and high heels. The first part is teaching women how to make better choices to stay safe. Then, I show them how to defend themselves if they are in a dangerous situation.

How does cooking fit in with your other interests?

It’s just part of my life. And an important part. First and foremost, I’m a mom. My mom taught me how to cook. I love to cook for and with my children. I do it most nights. It’s just a part of my lifestyle.

And you catch your own crabs?

We have this place in Westhampton Beach. I catch bunker fish off our dock. I throw out a treble hook, let it sink to the bottom, yank the rod and pull the line in and snag them. I take the fish off the line, cut them in half, and put them into a crab pot. Then I throw the crab pot back into the water and wait a couple of hours or overnight. When I pull the pot from the water, I have these beautiful blue crabs. Then I use tongs and gloves to get them out and put them in a bucket and refrigerate them. The coldness slows down their metabolism.

Any other tips?

You can buy crabs at a local fish market if you don’t want to catch your own. Also, the quality of the butter makes a difference. I use Plugra or another European butter.

BOILED BLUE CRABS WITH GARLIC BUTTER

8 large or jumbo live blue crabs

1 stick salted butter

3 to 4 tablespoons avocado or olive oil

2 to 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Pinch of Mrs. Dash seasoning

Pinch of onion powder

Pinch of garlic powder

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the crabs and boil until the shells are bright orange, about 10 minutes.

2. While the crabs are cooking, heat the butter and avocado oil in a small skillet. Add the garlic and spices and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

3. Drain the crabs. Use lobster crackers to crack the leg shells and small forks to remove the crab meat from the legs. Break the crab bodies in half and eat the “lollipop” meat where the legs meet the body. Dip crab meat in garlic butter and enjoy. Makes 4 appetizer servings.

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