I often do this time of year… But not because of PMS or cold rainy winter weather or crowded holiday shops (no comments please). It is crab season!!
One of the bazillion things I love about living here is the start of the crab season. Our local Dungeness crabs are so amazingly luscious, rich huge chunks of meat with lots of crab fat, large legs and bodies, sweet succulency, ahhhh.. Paired with a good beer, a loaf of sourdough bread and a few lemon wedges there is no finer dinner, *ever*. It is my family’s favorite meal this time of year, in fact we had fresh crab the day before Thanksgiving, and hopefully again before Christmas. My sis and I would regularly head to the wharf with a stick of butter, a knife and a lemon in our pockets, buy a freshly cooked crab and some Boudin sourdough and sit on the Aquatic Park steps and devour our crab like little gluttonous otters. What great memories!
Last week over at A___ and R____’s beachy place we went to the local Asian market and picked up humongo live crabs, and a few other necessary ingredients. We deviated from the usual sourdough side because the sound of zingy ginger garlic noodles really sounded appealing with freshly steamed crab.
If you have access to live crabs I really encourage you to give it a shot and cook them yourself. The only hard(ish, and not really) part is cleaning them. But it is not really hard at all, just a little messy and then it’s done, and your dinner awaits.
For seafood lovers I would recommend a crab per person. If you will be serving more side dishes then you can probably safely buy one crab per two people but to me that would be a sad, sad day. The whole point is to feast on crab, cracking and picking out the fat morsels of snowy white sweet meat until your fingers are pruned, your hands and forearms sticky with crab juice and bits of crab shell in your hair and all over the dining room.
On this night we bought 3 large crabs, over 3 pounds each, and a bunch of herbs, garlic, ginger, fresh Chinese egg noodles and Asahi beer. And an extra roll of paper towels!
When we got home the crabs hung out in the sink in a plastic bag, a very crinkly plastic bag. We tried not to think about that. I started water boiling for the ginger garlic noodles and A___ hauled out the big 15 quart stock pot for the crabs. While the noodles were boiling, which took just a minute, I began peeling a huge chunk of fresh ginger with a teaspoon (it’s so easy to remove the skin that way), and diced it up finely, I think there was about 3/4 of a cup of minced ginger. I also minced up a half of a head of garlic and popped all of these fragrant goodies into a large bowl with a 1/4 cup of vinegar and soy sauce and 1/2 cup of grapeseed oil. A___ chopped a bunch of green onions and cilantro and added them to the bowl. After a teaspoon of Asian chili and garlic paste (sambal) and a little white sesame seeds were stirred into the mix I added a dash of ponzu sauce and tossed the still warm noodles in this savory, tangy sauce.
Meanwhile, A___ started the base in which to steam the crabs. She popped open the two monster-sized cans of Asahi beer and poured them into the big stock pot. A few handfuls of fresh herbs went in (parsley, dill, celery leaves), a quarter packet of some commercial crab and shrimp boil spices (about 1/4 cup) and a little Ancho chile powder also got mixed into the beer. They simmered for a while.
Once the crab base had simmered for a bit, and we were almost full from picking at the noodles in the mixing bowl (oh, oops!), it was time to start the crab.
Now, that wasn’t so bad, was it??
Brave R___ popped the crab into the pot, and we added cans on top of the lid to prevent any clattering noises from inside to disturb our serenity of watching Poirot in the other room. 15 minutes later, we returned to the kitchen, and voila! They were done! No drama, no Annie Hall-esque accidents. We pulled them out and let them sit on the stoop in a wide bowl to cool off and joked about the possibility of raccoons squeezing through the front gate to get at the crab. After about 5 minutes we retrieved the unmolested crabs and I set about cleaning them.
Here’s where it gets a bit messy. Next time I will film this cleaning process but frankly we were getting really hungry and we just wanted to start our feast!
I kept the plastic bag from the grocery store for the cleaning portion of the evening. It sat in the sink next to the colander of crab and an extra bowl. I like to work over a colander to avoid getting any crab shells down the garbage disposal (or in the case of the sink at The Roost, there is no disposal so it’s important to prevent getting all the bits from going down the drain). This site has an excellent picture of the undercarriage of a crab should you need a little reference.
First, you carefully remove the legs from the body by grabbing them near the joint where they attach to the body, and twist. The legs pop off very easily this way. Toss the legs into the serving bowl.
Turn the crab so that the flappy tail thing is facing you, and using a table knife or a spoon insert the utensil under the shell by the base of the flap. You just need to get a little purchase here to be able to reach in with your fingers and pull the crab back off the body. Toss the top shell.
With the water from the tap flowing into the colander, rinse the crab body out. There will be mysterious goopy bits that just get washed out into the colander. Many people like to save the yellowish “crab butter” however I am not that fond of it so I just rinse it out. Should you want to save it, scoop it out with a spoon and place in a small bowl. It does have excellent crabby flavor for sauces or soups.
You are almost done now! Then, you will see some feathery finger things, the gills, and you pull those off and toss them. Finally, the two white lobes of the crab body are ready to be broken in half, rinsed well and put into your serving bowl. That’s it! I like to use a big chef’s knife to crack the thick joints of the claw and the knuckle portion of the legs. I was done in under 5 minutes, so it’s really easy.
Set the table with crab crackers, little forks to help get the meat out of the shells, a big bones bowl for the empty shells, tons of paper towels, bottles of cold beer, and some lemons and Tabasco for those who care for it. Dig in and enjoy!!
PS: Don’t forget to take out the trash before you go to bed! Trust me on this.