Feelin' crabby?


POSTED: Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The annual tradition with my family is to serve Dungeness crab on New Year's Eve with warm sourdough bread and generous servings of Caesar salad mdash; the kind with homemade dressing that's rich and garlicky.

We laugh at old family stories, like the time I insisted on making a necklace out of the discarded crab claws. To my 8-year-old eye, it looked just like a bear claw necklace I'd seen in a museum, and, according to my mother, it became the source of a dreadful smell some weeks later.

Over a table covered with several layers of newspaper instead of tablecloths and good china, we reminisce about the passing year, toast the coming new year and set what we hope are attainable goals for ourselves.

Yet there's no need for the added appeal of a holiday for Dungeness crab lovers. Dungeness crab season is a time of year when crab lovers salivate in anticipation of eating this sweet treat of the Pacific.

A native of the Pacific Coast, Dungeness crab can be found from Alaska's Aleutian Islands to Santa Cruz, Calif. It gets its commonly known name (the formal Latin name of Cancer Magister translates to “;master crab”;) from the town of Dungeness, Wash., home of the first commercial harvesting of the crab.

The crabs are caught with traps, a method considered sustainable, renewable and eco-friendly, meaning without damage to the environment or depletion of the resource.





        Here are Honolulu markets currently offering fresh Dungeness, although probably best to call first as they're sure to go fast.

        » Tamashiro Market Inc., 802 King St. Call 841-8047.

» Whole Foods Market, 4211 Waialae Ave. Call 738-0820.





        When buying these delectable crustaceans, be mindful that the recovery rate is about 25 percent of the crab. This means that if you purchase a 2-pound crab, you'll get about a half-pound of meat.




        Interested in learning the sustainability of your favorite seafood? Visit www.montereybayaquarium.org.

“;Crab season, beginning mid-November and lasting seven months, is carefully scheduled to avoid the crabs' primary molting period, and fishermen are required to release female and undersize crabs, which has maintained a pretty perfect balance for close to 100 years,”; says Pete Kalvass, senior marine biologist for the California Department of Fish and Game.

“;This year the crab is especially flavorful,”; says Rich Franceschi of the Paisano Brothers Branch of North Coast Fisheries Inc. in Bodega Bay, Calif.

Though he's been in the business since the early 1970's, Franceschi hasn't grown tired of eating Dungeness.

“;My favorite way to eat fresh crab is still warm, straight out of the pot - of course, a green salad and French bread and butter is good with it, too.”;

“;I like my crab in any form, but my favorite way to enjoy crab is in a Crab Louie salad,”; says Kalvass. “;Throw some lettuce, beets, olives and sliced hard-boiled eggs in a bowl, add the meat of a couple of crab on top and dress with a creamy vinaigrette. It's making me hungry talking about it.”;

Perhaps the most popular way to eat Dungeness crab is with warm clarified butter enhanced with garlic and lemon. I recently ran into Alan Wong as he was exiting a Hawaii Farm Bureau luncheon and jumped at the opportunity to ask his Dungeness preference.

Without the slightest hesitation, he answered, “;Dipped in hot butter and garlic.”;

However you prefer to eat crab, remember that it's easy to overwhelm the crab's delicate flavor with too many ingredients; here, less really is more.

Dungeness crab can be eaten hot or cold, added to salads and sandwiches, used to make won tons, spring rolls, crab cakes and numerous other Asian fusion dishes.

In my family there are members who dip the crab in butter sauces, but I prefer a light spritz of lemon followed by a drizzle of olive oil.

Whatever crab combination suits your palate best, champagne is an ideal accompaniment, making Dungeness crab a traditional favorite for New Year's Eve.