I’ll never forget my first taste of crab. I was a very small kid on my first visit to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, and there were giant steaming kettles everywhere filled with fresh Dungeness crab.
We sat at a big picnic table covered with newspaper and spent the next couple of hours picking out the meat, sucking on the shells and eating it simply with a squeeze of fresh lemon. Those kinds of shared times around the table are unforgettable.
There are estimated to be at least 4,500 different crab species in the world, according to the “Oxford Companion to Food.” They range in size from the tiny pea crab which, as the name suggests, is about the size of a pea, all the way up to the giant Japanese Spider crab, which can measure as much as 12 feet from claw tip to claw tip.
In the U.S., the four best-known crabs are blue crab, a species found on the Atlantic coast down to the Gulf of Mexico; stone crabs from around Florida and the southeast; king crab made famous by the TV series “Deadliest Catch”; and Dungeness crab from the Pacific Northwest.
Since I live in Northern California my favorite crab is, of course, Dungeness. Beginning in November, which is the opening of crab season, I look forward to reliving those gustatory memories of that little kid on Fisherman’s Wharf. If you are intimidated by cooking or cleaning crab, there are lots of online tutorials. A good starting place is wikihow.com/cook-dungeness-crab.
Dungeness crab is found on the Pacific Coast from Southern California up to Alaska. It gets its name from the village of Dungeness on the strait of Juan de Fuca in Washington state. They are larger than blues and yield succulent sweet meat from both the body and the legs and claws. When cooked simply in boiling seawater, the shell turns a bright red.
Here are some of my favorite crab recipes. You can use whatever crab meat is available to you, but of course it must be Dungeness!
Fresh mussels, clams and shrimp can also be added to the mix and you are on your way to your own cioppino. Julia Child loved vermouth to make sauces and broths, so get a good one. They aren’t expensive. Serve with a big stack of napkins and lots of crusty French bread.
Dungeness Crab in Wine & Vermouth
Makes 2 servings as a main course or 4 as an appetizer
1 large (21/2 pounds or so) cooked, fresh Dungeness crab
1/4 pound unsalted butter
2/3 cup dry, white vermouth
1/2 cup dry white wine
11/2 cups chicken stock
3 tablespoons thinly sliced garlic
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley or a combination of parsley and chives
— Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Clean, crack and separate crab into sections and set aside.
Place remaining ingredients, except parsley and pepper, together in a sauce pan and simmer covered for 5 minutes or so. Add crab, parsley and pepper and warm crab through.