Secrets of Dungeness Crab
Posted: Dec 6, 2006 3:32am ET
My colleague Jim Laube sounds like he had a great day crabbing (as he described so vividly in his blog
). I'm lazier. I buy my crabs, although I do prefer them alive and kicking (literally). Fortunately, an Oriental market opened recently in my San Francisco neighborhood that sells live crabs, which are kept in seawater-filled tanks.
Opening week of the season, they were selling the crabs for $2.99 a pound. My other favorite market was selling cooked local crabs for $5.99 a pound. I held up two fingers and the crab guy fished out two 2-pounders, waving their claws excitedly. I gave him a thumbs-up.
I am a big fan of Dungeness crab
. They're big enough (generally 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 pounds) to be easier to pick than blue crabs
(which can run up to four crabs per pound), and the meat is sweet and flavorful. I lived in Florida for seven years, but I don't share Floridians' widespread enthusiasm for stone crab
. For one thing, they are cooked on the boat, so they're not as fresh when you get them. And you only get the claw. I don't like claw meat as much as the leg and body meat. It's the texture.
Like Jim, I don't make crab cakes from Dungeness and I'm not big on crab in cioppino or other tomato sauces. I like Chinese-style steamed or stir-fried crabs, but my wife finds the sauce makes them too messy to eat.
So I steam them. I put a quart of water and 1/4 cup salt in a big 12-quart pot (to emulate sea water), bring it to a boil and fit one of those expandable vegetable steamers inside. In go the crabs and on goes the lid. The 2-pounders needed 15 minutes to reach ideal doneness.
No need to serve crab hot. I actually like it better at room temperature or on ice. I let the crabs cool for a few minutes, then remove the outer shell (saving the yellow crab butter that hides in the big shell for a treat). After picking away the miscellaneous bits stuck to the inside shell, use a cleaver to cut through the body between the legs.
Although you can do a pretty good job of getting to the crab meat with pointed chopsticks, I like those narrow crab forks with a long, narrow spoon on the other end. With that, and a nutcracker to get through the shells, you're in business.
Many people like to dip the crab meat in mayonnaise or melted butter, but I prefer a few drops of fresh lemon and a crisp-crusted sourdough bread. The lemon makes a perfect bridge to my favorite wine with crab—Riesling. (Thank you, Jim, for the credit on that one.) But I also like Chardonnay, especially one with a few years of age on it. The lemon helps goose the acidity on softer wines.
Which is why I pulled out Voyager Chardonnay 2002
from Margaret River, Australia, to drink with our inaugural crab of the season. I remembered enjoying this wine with marron, the lobster-like shellfish that's one of Australia's major delicacies. When the wine's pear, tropical fruit and nut flavors hit the lemon-anointed crab, it revved up our taste buds to high gear.