Valentine’s Crab Tradition

Valentine’s day and crab – not what you would normally connect with one another. But our family now has a three year tradition linking crab to Valentine’s Day. For the last three years we have had the same dinner on the 14th – or basically the same dinner. So this time we went one better and invited a whole bunch of friends over. We hung out and talked and played a special Valentine’s edition of Scattergories (we made up three extra lists specially for the day. The kids loved this more than everything else.)

We also had dinner. Kids (or non-crab eaters – almost the same thing – Amelia wanted crab and Grace would have wanted crab if she hadn’t become a vegetarian) ate pizza and the noodles and salad. Everyone ate the cake. Grownups ate the crab and the noodles and salad.

But first, why crab? The answer is that we are in the middle of the Pacific Coast’s annual Dungeness Crab season. And despite East coast and Alaskan and other bigots, Dungeness Crab is the best crab you can get. Full of rich flavor, big and meaty, the perfect crab. So what do we do with it? I make Roasted Dungeness crab with ginger, garlic, and spring onions and garlic sesame sweet noodles and one of the guests brought salad. For dessert we had a variation on the sublime Silver Palate Cookbook lemon cake recipe. I made it with bergamot instead of lemon since I had just read a SF Chronicle article telling where to get Bergamot locally. It was good, probably as good as a regular lemon cake, but not as good as the special Meyer Lemon version that Jan makes (from Meyer Lemons we sneak from a neighbour’s tree – the guilt adds an extra dimension to the flavor).

Anyway, here’s what you do if you want to do the same. I’ll start with the noodles – they are easy.

Sweet Garlic-Sesame Noodles

Put on a pot of water to make pasta as normal – in this case I recommend linguine – it is the right size for the sauce and to go with the crab. While waiting for it to boil, chop up half a head of garlic very fine and get two tablespoons of sesame seeds together. Heat four tablespoons of toasted sesame oil in a frying pan and add a quarter teaspoon of chilli flakes. Then add the garlic and sesame seeds. Cook until the garlic just starts to brown and turn off. Stir in a tablespoon of sugar. Now cook the noodles, drain, return to the pot and pour all the oil, garlic and sesame mixture over the noodles and stir thoroughly to combine. You will want to salt the noodles to taste – they need quite a lot.

Roasted ‘Drunken’ Dungeness Crab

Note that this recipe is inspired by the famous Thanh Long restaurant out on 40th Avenue in San Francisco. Used to be before they opened the upmarket versions called Crustacean in SF and LA that you could go there without a reservation and spot celebs all over the place. But much more interesting was the fact that every single person in the place was eating the same thing – roasted crab. They had three versions (spicy, garlic and drunken) but they also had a full two page menu. But nobody ordered anything except crab and noodles. I just made up my own version from memory and combining the three kinds in one.

So, first, obtain one cooked, cracked and cleaned crab per person. You can buy them already done from many supermarkets, etc. I usually wait until Whole Foods has a sale or get it from Costco and clean it myself. You can also go down to any real fishing port and get them live and cook and clean and crack ’em yourself. Actually, this last time we didn’t crack them but instead went out and got ten nutcrackers and picks. You can even, if you want to go up to Mendocino County, go out on a boat and catch your daily limit for $100 (that’s ten crabs). For the sustainably minded, Dungeness Crab is one of the few forms of seafood with a sensible fishing policy that works. You can only catch male crabs above a certain size. The result is that the Dungeness Crab population has been stable for decades.

Back to the recipe.

Heat the oven to 500 degrees.

If you crack and clean yourself, reserve the gills and liver and unsavoury squishy bits from inside in a pot, just cover with water and put on to boil very high. As you get spring onion and garlic and ginger trimmings, add them to the pot and throw in a glass of white wine. If not, then worry not.

Next, peel and finely chop four very large chunks of ginger per four crabs. Peel and chop a full head of garlic per four crabs. Chop a half pound of scallions per four crabs. Now pour half a cup of olive oil into a frying pan, add a teaspoon of chilli flakes, get it hot and add the ginger. Just as the ginger begins to really sizzle, add the garlic. Then as that really sizzles, add the scallions and cook until the garlic is turning brown. Remove from the heat immediately.

Now put all the crab in a big roasting pan and pour half a bottle of white wine over it. Then carefully pour all the oil, ginger, garlic and spring onion mixture, including the oil, evenly over the crab. Put in the oven for ten minutes or until hot. Get a HUGE serving platter and nicely arrange the crab on it. Pour most of the sauce in the pan over the crab and reserve the rest in a jug for people to add more if they want.

Serve with the noodles and a big green salad or with dark leafy greens.

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