Wishing for a Crabby New Year
I’ve got the TV set for watching the glittery ball drop in Manhattan’s Times Square and the fireworks exploding in technicolor over San Francisco.
I’ve got a bottle of fine bubbly chilling in the fridge.
And I’ve got my husband geared up to do battle with the long, unruly lines at the seafood counter at the local Asian market — all in effort to snag live Dungeness crab on New Year’s Eve.
It wouldn’t be a New Year’s Eve without any of that. Nope, not in my book.
You can have your lobster. I’ll take Dungeness over that any day.
Especially on New Year’s Eve, when you just can’t go wrong with simple yet spectacular seafood and glasses of Brut sparkling wine.
Sure, you can buy already cooked crab at your local seafood market. Just make sure it’s freshly cooked and there’s a lot of turnover or else you risk ending up with dry, stringy meat. And nobody wants that.
But having grown up in a Chinese-American household, I’m used to cooking my own at home for the freshest taste. My late-parents liked to steam our Dungeness. Then, my Dad would take a cleaver to the steaming hulks and crack them with a resounding wallop before bringing the massive platter to the table, where we would all dig in, our hands getting messier by the minute.
Although drawn butter or mayo is often an accompaniment to dip the crab in, we liked ours just plain.
Today, my husband does the manly honors in cooking the crab. We still keep it simple. But we like to follow a recipe by Bay Area cookbook author Bruce Aidells in which the crab is boiled in beer with aromatic bay leaves and onions. The hoppy flavor of the beer seems to bring out even more sweetness in the crab.
Included is Aidells’ recipe for lemon mayonnaise for those who like more embellishment on their crustacean.
Eat your fill with champagne or beer.
I’ll drink to that.
Boiled Crab in Beer
(Serves 4 as a main dish or up to 8 as a first course)
3 bottles light ale or lager beer
8 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
6 bay leaves
2 whole onions, unpeeled
2 (1- to 2-pound) live Dungeness crabs
Lemon Mayonnaise (optional; recipe follows)
1/2 pound of butter, melted (optional)
3 lemons, cut into wedges (optional)
In a very large pot, combine beer, water, salt, bay leaves and onions. Bring to a rolling boil. Add crabs, head and claws first, holding crabs from the rear. Boil for 15-18 minutes. Smaller crabs will cook at the lower end of the range, while larger ones cook at the highest end.
Remove crabs with tongs. When cool enough to handle, clean, crack and serve accompanied with lemon mayonnaise, melted butter and lemon wedges.
How to clean and crack a cooked crab: Once cooked, pull back the apron (the small shell on the underside of the crab, shaped like an apron or chest-plate) from the bottom shell and twist off. Remove large top shell. Inside the shell is the yellowish roe that some people like to eat. Attached to the legs where they meet the body are some small finger-like gills. They should be removed and discarded. Twist off legs and claws from upper leg area, called the lump meat area. Crack, but don’t smash, the legs and claws with a mallet or nutcracker.
Cut the upper lump meat area into 4 or 6 sections. Use your fingers or a crab fork to gently ease out the meat. Mind the shells, especially from the lump area.
1 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
Tabasco to taste
Scoop mayonnaise into a bowl and whisk in lemon zest, juice and soy sauce. Add Tabasco and additional lemon juice if you want.
Recipes from Bruce Aidells
To Go With Your Crab Feast: Scott Beattie’s Waverly Place Echo Cocktail
As Well As: Green Bean Salad with Pickled Shallots