Savor the Season with Crab Three Ways
My Christmas comes mid-November, when Dungeness crab season opens in the Bay Area. I count down the days until the season starts, and usually commemorate the opening with friends, taking paddleboards out at Baker Beach, crab traps in tow, farming the sea.
Few things in life are more satisfying that catching your dinner. The anticipation of the bounty, the chilly day spent at the beach playing football, the inevitable mad dash to the fish market for crab reinforcements to turn a modest haul into a bountiful crab feed. Dungeness crab is my comestible synonym for winter in the Bay Area.
My love of crab goes back as far as I can remember. I was the kindergartener drawing pictures of Alaskan king crab legs in my “About Me” book on the favorite food page. They were a special-occasion food: Christmas Eve and birthday fare. After a long frozen journey from Alaska, their huge meaty legs served with butter and lemon. By contrast, Dungeness crab was a revelation: delicate, tender, sweet and ready to be pulled from the water minutes from home. Requiring so little effort, yet yielding such pleasure, crab preparation can be as simple or involved as you please, from procurement to table.
You can take the DIY approach with a crabbing permit, or make a trip to the tank at the fish market or simply purchase freshly steamed and cleaned crustaceans. Purists would argue against the latter, but in the 10 seconds it takes to slice a lemon and a break off a nice chuck of bread, your critics can lecture you crab-less while you are devouring dinner. After my first dozen or two steamed crabs each winter, I like to venture out a bit with flavor and preparation. The richness of crab thrives with spice and acid, and meaty chunks of crab can turn a humble bowl of pasta into a simple luxury. In a world of heavy crab cakes, a light homemade one with fresh herbs and loads of crab, finished with a squeeze of Meyer lemon, is a great start to any meal. Or really a meal on its own. Aiming for simplicity, each of the following recipes starts with cracked and cleaned crab, which you can cook easily at home for superlative results. Steam in three inches of salted water for seven minutes per pound (fourteen minutes for a pot of two pound crabs).
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