...They Make Great Entrees Too
While our delectable local Dungeness Crabs are in the spotlight, let's take a closer look at what this latest news is all about and explore some tips for purchasing the very best of this year's bounty.
The November 15th 2010 opening of San Francisco's Dungeness crab season is always greatly anticipated, and with crab populations peaking in cycles of approximately seven to ten years, no two openings are alike.
This year's excitement centers on whether crabs have had the time to grow into the new, larger shells they have created for themselves, thus providing ample yields of delicious meat.
The Amazing Molting Cycle of The Crab
The hard exoskeleton of the crab prevents growth, so at
yearly intervals the whole hard shell is cast off or molted.
Before the molt, an uncalcified protective outer layer is started, offering the crab a soft, pliant and roomy suit to wear while
it backs out of a slit in the cramped shell that has opened
during the molting process.
Here's a link to a video of a spider crab molting.
In a word, it's cool.
The next few days of the cycle is a soft-shell period, and the crab undergoes rapid growth as the new shell hardens and establishes the larger size of the crab's digs until the next year's molt.
As the crab grows and fills out the new shell, the meat becomes firm and sweet and wonderful. This phase is of vital importance, because the under-developed, morphing crab is undesirable, and harvesting crabs prematurely results in the equivalent of
bycatch; unsustainable, unnecessary and in our view,
utterly inexcusable waste.
At the outset of each season, crabs are tested by
California Fish and Game and fishermen to determine whether those caught in an area and at a depth are indeed developed,
with hardened shells and good yields, before the commercial season is officially opened. Patience in these matters is
vital for the viability of the entire fishery.
We purchase crab from small-boat fishermen out of San Francisco Bay, Bodega Bay and Pillar Point Harbor.
These pros have braved the waters and supplied us with
beautiful, delicious Dungeness Crab for years.
Wherever and whenever you purchase crabs,
we urge you to be sure to follow the guidelines below
and always buy crab that has been properly
harvested and handled with care and respect.
Here Are Some Guidelines for Purchasing
The Tastiest, Best Crab
- Live crabs should be lively. A listless or dead crab will be mushy and bitter.
- Avoid crabs with black spots or barnacles on the shell, they are at the end of their life cycle and won't taste sweet.
- Both live and cooked crabs should seem heavy for their size. Pinch a leg to make sure the shell is hard so you avoid crabs that have recently molted; they will feel light, and the shell will be soft and spongy.
- A cooked crab should have its legs tightly pulled up to the body and the shell should not be broken or cracked. Cooked crabs that have black discoloration at the leg joints or where the leg joins the body have not been cooked long enough and will soon become unpalatable.
Boiling A Whole Dungeness Crab
Start with at least a gallon of water in the largest pot you have. For every gallon of water, add a quarter of a cup of coarse sea salt. This amount of salt will create a balance between the density of the crab and the cooking water so that the crab’s essential flavors are not drawn out into the water in the pot. This proportion of salt will give you a lightly salted flavorful crab.
Bring the water to a boil, add the crab to the pot, and return the water to a boil; at this point begin timing. A one and a half- to two-pound crab will take about fifteen minutes to cook; a two and a half- to three-pound crab, about eighteen minutes.
Submerge the crab into a basin of ice water for 4-5 minutes; this will stop the cooking and “set” the firmness of the flesh.