Crab Season Opened! Only 4 months late…
Friday night at midnight, the California Dungeness Crab season opened. Which means you will, if all goes well, be able to get local crab by Monday — and the price, which has been sky-high for live Washington crab, should come down, if enough fishermen go out.
In the interest of making sure you get to enjoy this short season, I paid the $9.50 per pound for Washington crabs, so I could do a photo primer on how to cook them, and then, you can enjoy the best of the best!
I buy my crabs at Asian markets, with tanks — I only want alive and lively specimens, and I inspect closely to make sure they’re not missing claws, and that they are indeed lively. I would simply never, ever, buy cooked crab. Lucky Seafood on E. 12th and 12th Ave. in Oakland is a good market (call first to see if they have crabs), and 99 Ranch will do most of the time — but there, I’ve gotten both good and some really bad crabs, because they often go in back to grab crabs out of distant tanks, and don’t want to show you what they are picking out, unless you’re quite demanding, until it’s in the bag. Much harder to tell if the crab is alive if you can’t see it moving, and they must be alive when you plunge them in the pot, or they will have degraded in quality considerably. Buy in the morning, cook by evening please.
Keep the live crabs cold. Into the fridge pronto, and be careful when you handle the bag putting it in. I learned the hard way, when I poked the bag last year to keep it from falling out of the fridge — and got the most painful injury imaginable —these little guys are lightening fast, and have incredible bruising and piercing ability with those two big front claws. I suspect the whole neighborhood could hear me screaming. Anyway, keep the crabs in the fridge until the water boils, and they will be calm, making them much easier to get into the pot.
Bring a big pot with 3-4 inches water to the boil. Salt heavily — you want it to taste like the sea, a couple of good heaping teaspoons of kosher salt. Plunge the crabs in (I pick them up with tongs from the back end, and plunge them in head first). Don’t crowd them too much, 2 crabs at a time is good so the water comes back to the boil quickly. Once you have the crabs in the pot, cover it, set a timer for 15 minutes, and as soon as the water comes back to the boil, turn it quite low, so they just simmer. They will be done perfectly in 15 minutes. Get them right out of the pot, so you can handle them — it takes only a minute or two for them to cool just enough.
To clean the crab, grab the triangular flap on the belly and pull it off, then use a towel to keep from burning your fingers, and pry the carapace apart from the body and legs. Some people love that green “crab butter.” That is actually called the hepatopancreas, and is the animal’s digestive gland, equivalent to our liver and pancreas. Remove the mouth parts and the gills, which are the pointed, feathery pieces along the body. Then, grab the body and push both sides towards the center until the center cracks, then break back to completely separate the two half-crabs. Rinse briefly.
Now, you’re ready to serve! You need a cracker and a crab pick or small lobster fork, and of course some melted butter. Lemon if you like. Coleslaw goes great with crab.