Sunday, December 09, 2007

Bring On The Dungeness Crab!

There's nothing that puts me more in a crabby mood (and that's a good thing) than the local Dungeness crab. Its big, juicy meat makes the difficulty eating it just a minor complaint. My mom loves Dungeness crab, and I got her love for it later in life when I had my first, real fresh Dungeness in San Francisco. From there, I never turned back.

For those of you in the San Francisco Bay Area, you're all pretty familiar about the delayed Dungeness crab season in the bay because of the massive oil spill. Just a quick recap for those outside of the area: big tanker hits foot of Bay Bridge in fog, goof-ball captain tells Coast Guard he has a minor leak, tanker leaks tons of oil into the bay, birds die, fishing in the bay gets suspended, crab boats left tied to the pier, no crab for Thanksgiving. :(

Now nearly three weeks later, crab is finally coming to the waterfront (albeit not in the large quantities that we would have gotten in mid-November). In Oakland, the Pacific Coast Farmers Market Association decided to have a crab festival to remind people that there's still crab available. It was like Christmas morning for me, so I packed my camera and checked out the festivities at Jack London Square. Here are some shots from today:

The Jack London Farmers' Market takes place every Sunday. I actually rarely go to this market because there are so many markets these days and a few of them are within walking distance to my home. To go to the Jack London Square market, I had to take a 30-minute bus ride and then walk another 10 minutes to the waterfront. Since it's nearly winter, there weren't that many stalls (like most farmers markets these days) and of course citrus was everywhere.

They weren't kidding when they say fresh crab is here. A boat from Half Moon Bay came all the way to Oakland to sell its catch of fresh Dungeness crab. People actually had to walk down the pier to the boat to get their crab. The fisherman, Duncan MacLean, was selling his crab for $5.50 a pound. He says he'll be at Jack London Square for the next few Sundays. (Tomorrow I'll be posting my Q&A with Mr. MacLean about the crab season.)

Here's a happy camper with his fresh Dungeness crab that he just bought from Mr. McLean off his boat.
They had a cooking demonstration and the Slow Food Berkeley group prepared some fresh crab for the crowd. Here they're in the tent banging away at the freshly cooked crab to prepare them for the hungry spectators.

Tamar Adler did a cooking demonstration. Well, she actually didn't really do much cooking. She's a chef at Chez Panisse, and she said she had planned to demonstrate a crab salad recipe from the restaurant. But she said her boyfriend convinced her that the best way to eat crab is by itself with butter. So that's what she did. Instead of cooking, she spent the time showing people how to clean crab. While I agree the succulent meat of fresh crab is very sweet, it still would have been nice to see something more than just her dropping a crab into a pot of boiling water.

Here's Adler dropping a crab into a pot of boiling water. Yep, that was her cooking demonstration. She says you should cook the crab for 13 minutes.

Adler rips apart the top shell of the cooked crab as she demonstrates how to clean the crab after cooking it. In most Asian cooking, the cleaning is done before you cook the crab. So that's what I'm more used to. (Later I'm hoping to do a demo of cleaning the crab when it's fresh and live. I tried to do it last year but got injured when my crab was feisty and pinched my left index finger. I wasn't very happy.)

This is just guts of the crab. Adler basically ripped away all the unappetizing parts inside the crab such as the guts and gills, and then she snapped off the tail. Then she just dipped the crab in a pot of water to rinse it, then she was done.

To serve the crab, Adler did two dipping sauce. The first was your basic clarified butter (melted butter with the foam skimmed off). Then the second sauce was something she says she had when eating crab on the beach in Vietnam. It's a simple sauce of lime juice, lots of salt and lots of pepper.
Here she adds the pepper to the bowl of lime juice and salt for the Vietnamese-inspired dipping sauce. Yep, that was it. Very simple.

People lined up to get the free sample of crab claws and dipping sauce. I tried a bite and, yes, fresh crab is just so wonderful by itself. Too bad I just had a claw.

Another odd thing they did for the crab festival was a crab race. For all those PETA people, you might not want to read what happens next. But basically they built this rig tilted up and they dropped six crabs down the chutes and the kids pounded on the box to shake the crabs down. Most of the crabs who won were the ones that slid down on its back. Um, I think I'll stick with eating my crab.

COMING TOMORROW: I chat with crab fisherman Duncan MacLean about this year's crab season and his tips for shopping and cooking your crab. Check back Monday night for this Q&A.


SteamyKitchen said...

CRAB!!! Oh how I miss live crab.

Jennifer Jeffrey, a fellow blogger and author, sent me her latest book, called...Crab. It's a wonderful book - you guys should hook up - she's in SF.

Chef Ben said...

Wow, a whole book on crab! I'm going to check it out! Thanks SteamyKitchen for the heads up!

foodhoe said...

ew the crab shaking thing sounds so savage! I am one of those squeamish people who thinks that crabs look like gigantic insects and are look scarey. I don't like interacting with them live... but good to know there is a crab boat selling fresh crab at jack london. How much per # I wonder...?

Chef Ben said...

Foodhoe, they're selling the crab off the boat at $5.50 a pound. Killing and cleaning not included.

falls city foody said...

Just read your december article on Dungeness crab, it was a fun piece to read, thanks!- Being so close to the coast in Oregon, we eat crab "all the time", but I sem to be the guy that cracks the crab for everyone else to eat and would love to learn how to "shake" a crab - Any ideas on how I can learn?