This week marks the beginning of San Francisco’s Dungeness crab season. Starting mid November and ending in May, you’ll find seafood lovers celebrating the return of their favorite 10-legged creatures with crab parties and a myriad of crab-centric meals.
If you’ve never split open a claw and tasted the bounty of this Northern California ocean treasure, it’s time to tie on a bib and get cracking. Once you get past the Dungeness crab’s hard shell, you’ll find its sweet white meat–delicate and undeniably decadent. How to prepare Dungeness crab is up to you, but many chefs agree: Dungeness crab meat is so tasty it shouldn’t be hidden underneath competing flavors.
Where to buy:
The best time for crab is in December and January, when supplies are plentiful and the meat is sweetest. Dungeness crab can be purchased live from your local fishmonger or bought pre-cooked at the market. Whole Foods Market currently offers whole, cooked Dungeness crab for $11.99/lb. *PS, if you’re buying Dungeness Crab from Whole Foods in Los Angeles, they get their delivery every Wednesday!
If you plan on buying your crab live and cooking it at home, make sure that the crustacean is alive when you buy it. To cook it, fully submerge the crab in a pot of boiling, salted water and cook for 10-12 minutes.
Prep made easy
The best place to prep Dungeness crab is outside. If you plan on making more than a few crabs (one large crab per person is a good idea), create a prep station in the back yard, near a hose. This is a great job for kids or curious adults eager to pull up a lawn chair and get their hands dirty. You’ll need a bucket of water for cleaning, a container to hold the crabs and trash can to discard shells in.
You might even want to consider having a really tasty beer nearby.
Step 1: With the crab belly side up, pull off the triangular shaped belly flap, or apron.
Step 2: Turn over the crab and remove the top shell by inserting your thumb between body and the shell at the rear of crab. Pull up.
Step 3: Twist off claws and legs.
Step 4: Using a nutcracker or hammer, crack open the legs and claws.
Step 5: With the top shell removed, break off the hard mouth of the crab. Discard the colored connective tissue and the inedible, finger-like lungs surrounding the body.
Step 6: Rinse the crab thoroughly. The inside of the crab should appear mostly white, with only gems of pale meat and shell remaining.
Step 7: Using either a knife or your hands, split the body in half (vertically). Pick out the meat.
Step 8: Use a nutcracker or small hammer to crack open the leg shells.
Step 9: Pick out meat with a lobster pick, fork, or tip of a crab claw.
How to eat
To truly enjoy the flavor of Dungeness, serve it in the rough, with just the simplest of ingredients. Dip crab meat into warm butter, aioli (oil, egg, and touch of garlic for seasoning), or a spicy horseradish dip (add horseradish and soy to your favorite ketchup for an easy sauce).
And, if you’re looking for a fun way to keep clean, here is a beautiful and environmentally friendly alternative to pre-packaged wet napkins:
a fresh citrus and cucumber water for cleaning dirty fingers
3 lemons, thinly sliced rounds
2 limes, thinly sliced rounds
1 orange, thinly sliced rounds
1 cucumber, thinly sliced
Mix fruit in a large container. Add enough water to cover. Serve in a beautiful serving bowl or prepare individual finger bowls for guests. Present with cloth napkins.
Go on! Get some Dungeness crab and enjoy yourself!
PS, thanks to Chef Stephen Gibbs from Hands On Gourmet for showing me how to clean a crab!