Convention holds that sunny Californians and laid-back Oregonians are exemplars of “nice,” and, apparently, so are their crabs. Compared to our ornery Northeast blue claw variety (we’ll ignore the human analog here), which one expert deems “the meanest animal alive,” a Dungeness crab’s temperament is almost as sweet as its meat. And that meat is hefty: an average Dungeness weighs two to three pounds, 25 percent of which is in meat, a prodigious ratio in the crabsphere.
Right now their numbers are prodigious too, since it’s peak harvest time up through the Washington coast, which includes the eponymous town of Dungeness. And those nice Northwesterners are happy to share their bounty with us through purveyors like Mt. Kisco Seafood (477 Lexington Ave, Mount Kisco 914-241-3113; mtkiscoseafood.com). “Dungeness are so sweet, they’re more like king crab,” says owner Joe Di Mauro. And they’re a top sustainable species, too, caught in pots, not by trawler. If you purchase them live, choose the most active ones and, once you get them home, boil them, covered, in salted water for 15 to 18 minutes. (Humanitarian alert: placing them in the freezer a half-hour beforehand puts them in a dormant, semi-conscious state.) If you prefer to buy them pre-cooked, make sure the legs are curled underneath, a sign that they were cooked while still alive.
Once cooked and cooled, it’s time to get to work: holding the crab’s base, pull the shell away from its back, then turn it over, and pull and lift off the triangle-shaped section. Turn it back over and gently cut off the side gills. Discard the intestine at the back’s center, and the cavity’s yellow-green tomalley (its organs), if you like. Twist off the legs, rinse the body, and break it in half. Then grab your mallet or, preferably, nutcracker, and you’re good to go. Of course, if you’d rather save yourself the effort, Di Mauro also offers his Dungeness meat already picked. Now, how nice is that?
Dungeness Crab Cioppino
(Courtesy of Chef Jonathan Everin, Mt. Kisco Seafood)
¼ cup olive oil
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 fennel bulb, medium, diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded, medium, diced
1 leek (white and pale green), sliced
1 medium onion, small, diced
1 bay leaf
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 twenty-eight-oz can plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped, with their juice
1 cup dry red wine
2 eight-oz bottles clam juice
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
4 two-lb Dungeness crabs, cooked, cleaned (see article text), cracked, and quartered salt and freshly-ground black pepper
2 Tbsp parsley, chopped
In large pot over medium flame, heat oil. Add garlic, fennel, red pepper, leek, onion, and bay leaf. Cook until softened but not browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, cook 1 minute. Add chopped tomatoes with their juice, wine, clam juice, and red pepper flakes, and simmer 15 minutes. Add crab, simmer 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with chopped parsley. Serve with crusty sourdough bread.