I love crab but rarely have it, especially at home. Recently we went to visit our friends, Whitney and Amie, at their home in San Jose. Aside from being real Paso Robles wine buffs, they also in the know about Dungeness crab. For dinner the night that we visited they got live crabs, boiled them, then served them with clarified butter. Whit made it sound so easy: just throw the beasts into boiling water and wait fifteen minutes. Of course, there’s the barbaric ripping apart of the crab to get to the tender meat part afterward, but usually that’s fun and you can let each individual diner handle his or her own.
So I thought, why not try this myself?
A few weeks later, we had a dinner party for some friends. I went to Sun Fat in the Mission and bought eight live crabs. Yeah, I know, eight is a lot! What makes it even more absurd is that Hegui thought that the crabs were too small and wanted to reject them for even larger monsters! (They were each about 1¾ pounds.) I’m glad that I ignored him as already these barely fit into my large aluminum steamer.
I looked up the directions for cooking these in the 1997 Joy of Cooking, my bible for all things traditional American in the kitchen. Incredibly, even though there were pages and pages about Atlantic blue crabs (which I adore!) they recommended buying frozen Dungeness! Can you believe it?!? The book suggests that the crab is too delicate to take home live, as if all readers of the Joy of Cooking are on the East Coast or something and nobody who ever read the book lives on the West Coast. Ridiculous.
I abandoned my Joy for the internet. There I found a helpful site that recommended boiling or steaming for fifteen minutes. So back to easy.
My live crabs were packed four each into paper grocery bags, which were then placed in plastic bags with handles and sort of tied off. I kind of worried that they might escape and start walking sideways all over my apartment and attack Clarence or something, but that didn’t happen. I let them chill on the balcony until I was ready since the fridge was full. It was a cold night. Then I asked one of the guests, Chris, who seemed to be the least squeamish, to help in the execution of the meal.
These things are alive!! My goodness!! They were all tangled up one with another and when they stretched out their terrible delicious arms they looked positively huge!! It was a challenge to stuff them into the steamer baskets. We both worried about being clawed as these were not banded. As it was, we had to boil two because we ran out of room in the large steamers. Chris and I held down the lid over the ill-starred crustaceans until they stopped trying to force their way out. Gruesome. It was an ugly scene.
Hegui was so traumatized that he refused to eat his crab. Nobody else had that problem. Eating the crab was super messy but really fun. We all crunched our way to crab-happiness with lots of red wine to wash it down. Hegui made that onion and lentil pilaf that’s so yummy to accompany the succulent crab, for a sort of surf-n-turf meal. I also served clarified butter.
I did have two leftover crabs. The next day I cleaned these and sautéed them in some butter and olive oil with some Italian breadcrumbs and sweet paprika and used the crabmeat as a layer in a cheesy tomato lasagna.
I had some disturbing crabby dreams that first night but I’ve gotten over it. Now I want to try fresh lobster!