If you're feeling crabby, don't despair. Even landlocked Utah offers a lot of choices to quell your craving for this classy crustacean.
Crab legs can be found on the tables of the poshest eateries, chain restaurants or all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets. You'll also find crispy crab cakes, creamy hot dips, crab Louie salads, crab-laden chowders and soft-shell crab sushi on many menus.
Crab is the second-most popular shellfish in the United States, ranked behind shrimp. It's also the seventh-most popular type of seafood, with shrimp taking first place and tuna the second spot.
While Utahns have long been familiar with king and snow crab, they are seeing more Dungeness crab on menus and in seafood counters. There's a reason for that, said Nick Furman, executive director of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission.
"Dungeness was mostly caught and consumed on the West Coast, but in the past two or three years, we're beginning to penetrate a national market," he said during a visit with Utah food writers a few weeks ago as a guest of the Gastronomy Inc. restaurant group. Gastronomy's restaurants — such as Market Street Grill, Broiler and Cottonwood — are hosting a Crab Festival through the end of the month. They're serving more than a dozen dishes that use different varieties of crab.
According to Furman, last season's landings of 33.7 million pounds of Dungeness crab set a record for not only the Oregon fishery but from Central California to the Gulf of Alaska. That was three times as much as in past years, he said, noting that back in 1889, there were only 6,000 pounds of Dungeness sold that year, at a whopping 2 1/2 cents per pound.
"We're hoping for another bountiful harvest again this year," said Furman. The crab season along the Oregon coast runs from December through August. Oregon is currently the top producer of Dungeness crab, which was named after a fishing village on the Strait of Jan de Fuca in Washington state. It's one of five types of crab commonly harvested in and around the United States and is found along the Pacific Coast from California to Alaska.
Dungeness has smaller, more compact legs than king or snow crab, which are caught in the icy Alaskan waters. Blue crab is found along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Stone crab comes from Florida waters and only the claws are harvested.
With all the talk about "sustainable" and "endangered" seafood, "Nobody has to worry about being the one to eat the last crab out of the ocean," Furman said. "Our fishery has a very simple management system of size, sex and season."
Size: Only crabs 6 1/4 inches and larger are harvested, which would make them about four years in age.
Sex: Only male crabs are harvested. When small males and females are returned live to the sea, it ensures healthy stocks for future harvests.
Season: Crabs increase in size by shedding their old shell and forming a new, larger one. (By the time a male is big enough to be harvested, it is likely to have shed its shell up to 16 times.) During this "molting" season, which occurs during the summer, fishermen take extra care when handling soft-shelled crabs, because there is a higher mortality rate.
"Dungeness was hard to get here 20 years ago," said Tom Guinney, a Gastronomy Inc. partner. "But the price has come down and the availability has come up."
Dungeness has a sweet flavor, and the texture is less coarse than other types of crab, according to Larry Andrews, the marketing director of Alaska Seafood. Both Dungeness and blue crab are good choices for crab cakes, said Scott Loring, chef at Market Street Cottonwood. "They take well to being cooked again without being mushy or falling apart."
Dungeness crabs usually weigh about 2 pounds. In contrast, a king crab can measure up to 10 feet, claw to claw, and weigh 10-15 pounds. All the king crab's meat is in the legs.
"In terms of sheer size, it makes a fabulous presentation. You can get the beautiful large pieces of meat," Andrews said in a telephone interview.
Snow crab is smaller, and these are the crab legs popularized by seafood restaurant chains and buffets. "It's very versatile and had a good price point for restaurants and retail," Andrews pointed out.
Soft-shell crabs are blue crabs that have shed their hard shells. The whole crab, including the shell, can be eaten.
"Krab" or "surimi" is imitation crab; it's mostly crab-flavored fish.
Crab is low in fat and calories and high in protein. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a cooked 3-ounce portion gives you about 82 calories, 16 grams of protein, 1 gram of fat, no carbohydrates and 45 milligrams of cholesterol.
But crab isn't cheap, and the price varies widely depending on the type of crab and how it's prepared. A quick check in local markets found whole cooked Dungeness crab at Market Street Broiler's fish market for $8.99 ($10.99 if cracked and cleaned); Dungeness crab meat (out of the shell) at $22.99 per pound; and giant-size king crab legs for $27.99 per pound. At Aquarius Fish Market, whole cooked fresh Dungeness crab is $5.99 per pound (and they weigh 1 1/2 to 2 pounds each); small, fragile-looking frozen soft-shell crabs were $2 to $3 each, sold in four-packs.
At the Albertsons supermarket in downtown Salt Lake City, frozen Dungeness crab clusters were going for $3.99 per pound, and frozen snow crab clusters were $5.99 per pound. Frozen king crab legs (not nearly as large as the Market Street ones) were $20 per pound.
Pasteurized, refrigerated crab meat was $5.99 for an 8-ounce tub; the label says the product comes "from the finest waters of southeast Asia." The Chicken of the Sea crab in plastic pouches comes from Thailand, and Bumblebee's canned pink crab meat is from Vietnam. Canned crab ranged from $2 to $6 per can, depending on the type.
ALASKA DUNGENESS CRAB BOIL WITH DIP MEDLEY
Dip No. 1:
1 pint mayonnaise
2 cups roasted bell peppers, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup chopped parsley
1/4- 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Blend mayonnaise with roasted peppers, parsley, salt and cayenne pepper. Cover and refrigerate.
Dip No. 2:
7 medium California avocados, peeled and pitted
1 cup or 8 ounces low-fat sour cream
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 cup hot pepper sauce (Tabasco)
In a clean processor, blend avocado until smooth. Add sour cream, cumin, lime juice and hot pepper sauce. Blend until smooth. Cover and refrigerate.
Dip No. 3:
1 quart plain low-fat yogurt
1 cup fresh dill, chopped
1/2 cup green onion, chopped
1/4 cup creamy horseradish
1 1/2 tablespoon white vinegar
1/2 teaspoons white pepper
In a clean food processor, blend yogurt, dill, green onion, horseradish, vinegar and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until serving.
8 whole Dungeness crabs, thawed if necessary, cleaned and halved into clusters
4 teaspoons sea salt
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
4 teaspoons cayenne pepper
4 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons peppercorns
8 bay leaves
Combine ingredients in a stock pot with enough water to cover the crab clusters. Bring to a boil and cook 5 minutes or until heated through. Serve two crab clusters with 1/2 cup of each of the three dips. Serves 8. Adapted from Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.
ALASKA KING CRAB PUTTANESCA
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons anchovy paste
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons garlic cloves, crushed
4 pounds Roma tomatoes, thinly sliced
1/2 cups capers, drained
2 cups pitted black olives, quartered or halved
1 pound king crab meat, shredded
1/2 cup heavy cream, if desired
Cooked penne pasta, kept warm
1/2 cup or 3 ounces Romano or Parmesan cheese, shredded if desired
Blend oil, anchovy paste and garlic in a blender or food processor; transfer to pot. Add tomatoes, capers and olives. Bring to boil and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.
Stir in crab; continue cooking for 5 minutes. Add cream, if desired, and heat through.
Ladle sauces over cooked pasta and sprinkle with cheese. Serves 8. Adapted from Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.
ALASKA SNOW CRAB MELTDOWN
1/2 cup or 4 ounces salad dressing or mayonnaise
1/3 cup or 2 ounces fresh chives, chopped
1 quart plus 1 pint Alaska snow crab meat
1/2 cups or 6 ounces diced celery
16 slices rye or sourdough bread slices
8 slices Havarti or Gouda cheese
Blend dressing and chives. Stir in crab and celery. Cover and refrigerate until serving.
For each serving, butter one side each of two bread slices. Spoon 2/3 cup crab mix on unbuttered side of bread. Top with slice of cheese and second bread slice, buttered side up. Grill sandwiches over medium heat until golden brown and cheese begins to melt. Serves 8.
Low-fat variation: Use light salad dressing and 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper for dressing. Substitute reduced-fat cheese for regular cheese and spray-coat bread slices with butter substitute. Adapted from Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.
CRAB SALPICON SALAD
Latin Citrus Vinaigrette:
1/4 cup prepared vinaigrette dressing
1/3 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh orange segments, chopped
Combine prepared vinaigrette, orange and lemon juices, and chopped oranges, mixing well. Refrigerate until serving. Makes about 1 1/4 cups.
1 3/4 pounds crab meat (Alaska king crab works best)
1/2 cup green onions, chopped
1/2 cup green bell pepper, diced 1/2 inch
1/2 cup red bell pepper, diced 1/2 inch
1/2 cup yellow bell pepper, diced 1/2 inch
2 teaspoons Serrano chilies, minced
1 1/2 pounds avocado, diced 1/2 inch
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2-1 teaspoon pepper
11-12 ounces mixed field greens
8 ounces tortilla chips, assorted colors
Combine crab meat, onions, peppers, chilies, avocado, mint, cilantro, salt, pepper and Latin Citrus Vinaigrette and toss gently to mix. Chill for a minimum of 2 hours. For each portion, place about 1 1/2 ounces greens on serving plate. Mound 8 ounces chilled salad on top. Garnish with 1 ounce tortilla chips around edge of plate. Adapted from Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.
Crab cakes were prominently mentioned in Pat Conroy's novel, "Beach Music." So during his book tour, the South Carolina author cooked crab cakes for Charles Gibson on "Good Morning America." In "The Pat Conroy Cookbook," Conroy tells of showing up at 4 a.m. and being questioned by a "pretty, self-confident woman dressed in a chef's apron." Why didn't his recipe use any breading, like soda crackers?
"If I wanted soda crackers, I would eat a soda cracker. I like crab, just crab," he told her. She sampled one and proclaimed it delicious.
Years later, while channel-surfing on the Food Network, he recognized this woman as Sara Moulton, now the host of "Sara's Secrets" and the executive chef of Gourmet magazine.
1 pound lump crab meat, picked over and cleaned, with all shell fragments removed
1 egg white, lightly beaten until just foamy
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons finely snipped chives
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons coarse or kosher salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons peanut oil
Place crab in a mixing bowl. Pour the egg white over crab, slowly, stopping occasionally to mix it. When the meat has absorbed the egg white, sift the flour over crab and sprinkle with chives, black pepper, cayenne and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Lift the crab from the bottom of the bowl, turning it over gently, to mix the ingredients without overhandling.
Separate the mixture into 8 portions. Gently roll between the flattened palms of your hands to form loose balls. Flatten slightly and transfer to a plate. Sprinkle both sides with remaining 1 teaspoon salt and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Line a baking pan with paper towels. Fry cakes in two batches to ensure a crisp crust. Using a small heavy skillet, melt half the butter and oil together until the mixture is foamy and begins to brown. Fry the cakes until a crust forms, turning only once, about 2 minutes per side. (The fat should be sizzling hot, enabling a crisp crust to form before the crab absorbs the cooking fat.) Remove crab cakes and drain in the prepared pan. Cover loosely with aluminum foil to keep them warm.
Pour off the fat from the first batch, wipe out the pan, and return to the heat. Cook the second batch of cakes using remaining butter and oil. Serve hot with lemon wedges. — "The Pat Conroy Cookbook"
This is a New Orleans menu standard since the 1920s, writes Emeril Lagasse in his cookbook, "Emeril's Delmonico." It was such a local classic that he put it on his menu when he reopened the Delmonico in 1998.
1 1/2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup chili sauce
2 tablespoons finely chopped green onions
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon tarragon vinegar
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1 pound lump crab meat, picked over for shells and cartilage
6 ounces (7 strips) bacon, crisply fried and crumbled
6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Croutons or toast
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease six 4-ounce ramekins with the butter, place on a baking sheet and set aside. Combine mayonnaise, chili sauce, green onions, lemon juice, garlic, mustard, vinegar, paprika and hot sauce in a large bowl and mix well. Fold in crab and mix until well-coated, being careful not to break up the lumps. Divide mixture among the prepared dishes and top each portion with 1 tablespoon of bacon and cheese. Bake until crab is hot and cheese is golden brown on top, 8-10 minutes. Carefully transfer ramekins to 6 plates and serve immediately with croutons or toast on the side. — "Emeril's Delmonico"
MARKET STREET HOT ARTICHOKE-CRAB DIP
1 pint mayonnaise
1 cup Dungeness or snow crab (canned is acceptable, but fresh is best)
1 cup artichoke hearts (if canned, use hearts packed in water, not oil)
1/2 cup bread crumbs
5/8 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh Parmesan, shredded (grated commercial Parmesan is also acceptable)
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup fresh spinach, chopped
Combine all ingredients, except for 2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese, in an ovenproof baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Remove, sprinkle with remaining cheese, and return to oven until top is browned. Serve piping hot with your favorite chip or bread. Serves 8 as an appetizer. — Gastronomy Inc.
Some buying tips:
Dungeness fresh whole-cooked crabs should have a clean, moist, bright orange shell with legs and claws intact. They should be weighty and not feel "light'" when handled. There should be no unpleasant odor.
Frozen crab legs or clusters shouldn't show signs of discolor or freezer burn. Avoid those with heavy ice buildup; that shows age. Handle with care; frozen crabs tend to be brittle, and legs and claws can break off easily. Don't refreeze crab that has been frozen and thawed.
Fresh crab can be stored under refrigeration (preferably on ice) for up to seven days. Frozen items keep longer, but the sooner any crab is eaten, the better.
Source: Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission