When the primary Dungeness crabs hit fish markets alongside the West Coast every November, it appears like a celebration. Eating places rush them onto menus from San Francisco to Seattle, driving the frenzy amongst clients who’ve been ready for the season all 12 months lengthy. Thanksgiving plans are made round crabs, bringing households collectively for buttery, participatory meals which are definitely a step above turkey; come Christmastime, crab feasts are immutable vacation traditions too.
After I arrived within the Bay Space, I used to be woefully unprepared for this new crustacean fascination. I’d been residing in Washington, D.C. and worshiping on the altar of Maryland blue crabs for years, fortunately bludgeoning Outdated Bay-encrusted shells with a mallet and consuming buckets of Nationwide Bohemian. And whereas Maryland’s crab obsession is well-warranted, there’s actually no comparability.
“Dungeness crab is so candy and so huge,” says Naomi Tomky, Seattle-based writer of The Pacific Northwest Seafood Cookbook. “I hate the comparability to East Coast crabs as a result of they’re simply not the identical factor and also you’re not consuming them in the identical means.”
Stay dungeness crabs are usually between one and two kilos and purple-hued; after cooking, they’ve a placing crimson shell with loads of delicate, candy meat that’s completely pleasant with nothing however melted butter. There are, nevertheless, many different methods to take pleasure in these seasonal treats, from roasted with garlic, chiles, and butter, to crab rolls, crab chowder, crab Louie, and extra.
In Seattle and Oregon, the hefty crabs are extra available all year long, because of colder waters, and longer seasons. “I believe the vacation tie is far stronger within the Bay Space as a result of the crabs are simply obtainable for a brief time frame, and begin proper at the moment of 12 months,” says Tomky. “There’s additionally one thing very ceremonial about a complete crab, in addition to the truth that they’re huge and exquisite and brilliant crimson when cooked.”
Eric Rivera, chef and proprietor of Addo in Seattle, serves a unique tackle Dungeness crab by simmering it in garlic and chile, then including Szechuan peppercorns, ginger, black garlic, and black vinegar. He then provides sautéed wild mushrooms for an offbeat interpretation of Pacific Northwestern surf n’ turf, lending an earthy part and hearty forest feast vibes, and a beneficiant dose of his personal adobo seasoning—a callback to his Puerto Rican heritage and the flavors that discover their means into dishes throughout his ever-changing menu. “None of this must be good or good or whatnot,” says Rivera. “It’s no fuss. It simply must style good and make peeps blissful.” The dish is simply one other instance of the flexibility of Dungeness crabs, and the best way that West Coasters, high to backside, have made it their very own.
In San Francisco (and past), the Asian American group has had a big influence on the ingredient’s reputation as nicely, “One of many nice issues about having these different cultures round and the way a lot they respect recent seafood means that there’s all the time a marketplace for it,” says Tomky. Asian eating places just like the Vietnamese establishment PPQ Dungeness Island have been standing symbols for years, serving crabs roasted with garlic, peppercorns, curry, and chile oils alongside imperial rolls and fried banana ice cream.
Alongside the best way, garlic noodles turned a conventional accompaniment to complete roast crab, a dish whose origin relies in Vietnamese delicacies. At an Outer Sundown restaurant known as Thanh Long, the recipe stays a secret that’s intently guarded by the household of the restaurant’s founder, Helene An. These days, all through the Bay Space, on the menu of eating places of all types of cuisines, from Creole to soul meals to Vietnamese, variations are thought-about a regional delicacy.
“At this level, [garlic noodles] are an American recipe,” says Tu David Phu, an Oakland-raised Vietnamese American chef. Phu’s model makes use of Sun Ramen’s Keadama noodles, however in a pinch, he recommends spaghetti as a positive alternative; he tosses the noodles with garlic, butter, fish sauce, oyster sauce, sugar, and scallions till they’re completely coated within the umami-rich sauce. Paired with steamed crab, they’re sweet-and-savory perfection.
“You’ve bought to eat the crab butter,” says Phu of the tomalley or “crab fats” discovered within the creatures’ carapace. “I like to recommend getting a scorching bowl of steamed rice and pouring the crab butter over it. Should you like uni you’ll like crab butter.”
Diners at Swan Oyster Depot are likely to agree: The enduring San Francisco restaurant attracts hours-long strains for a spot at its small, crowded counter. A staple dish on the menu? Crab butter served proper within the shell, with loads of sourdough bread for dipping. There, Dungeness crab is served myriad methods, however no extra notably than as a part of the “crabsanthemum,” a plate of plump leg meat, artfully organized within the form of a flower, and served with Louie sauce.
These days, although, it’s been a troublesome street for followers of the meaty Pacific crab. Latest years have seen delays within the industrial fishing season for a wide range of causes, pushing again vacation crab feasts for a lot of and irritating fishermen whose livelihoods depend on their capability to herald full nets of the high-priced crustaceans. The 2021 Dungeness crab season was delayed in an effort to guard migrating whales and turtles. Fortunately, the season got here by way of simply in time for Christmas, conserving coastal vacation traditions alive.
“It is a nice 12 months to experiment with attempting one thing new in the event you haven’t had Dungeness crab for the vacations,” says Tomky. “Perhaps you’re having a smaller celebration, and a Dungeness crab is a good way to get a complete animal in your plate.”