Wishing for a Crabby New Year

Ring in the New Year with Dungeness crab cooked in beer.

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.

Lemon Mayonnaise

(Serves 6)

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

And: Home-Made Potato Chips — Made in the Microwave

And: Ad Hoc’s Caramelized Scallops

Plus: Sherry Yard’s Honey-Glazed Spago Corn Bread

And: Babette Friedman’s Apple Cake

And: Emily Luchetti’s Gingerbread with Warm Apples and Cider Sabayon

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  • That is an interesting way of boiling crab! Surely very flavorful…

    Happy New Year!



  • I wouldn’t mind a crabby new year at all if it’ll involve crab boiled in beer:)

    Happy New Year!


  • Sounds perfect to me for ringing in the new year as I too adore crab.

  • Mmm, crab boil! I’ll take two, and a nice bottle of brut Champagne to go with them.


  • Yum! Sounds like a great way to ring in the New Year!

  • That is one crabby new year that I definitely would love to be part of! It sounds absolutely perfect with the lemon mayonnaise.

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  • What a delicious way to ring in the new year!

  • What? You get your wriggling Dungeness at 99 Ranch instead of the crab boat tied up along Johnson Pier at Pillar Point Harbor? Heresy! Oh, your philosphy is a live crab is a live crab is a …

  • I was tempted to do this for NYE but not sure if we can brave the Asian markets….hehe.

  • Yay, love crab! Ironically, I never liked it growing up because we would order them at the Chinese restaurant and I didn’t want to get messy in public. Now I don’t care. I’m surprised growing up in a Chinese household that you never had it with ginger and green onion! I love that combo. Also, white wine with garlic also work for me! So do Meat Boy just have crab or do you do surf and turf? 😉 Enjoy your crab on New Year’s Eve!

  • Single Guy Ben: Actually, I have enjoyed ginger-garlic crab at various Chinese restaurants and the delicious cognac crab at Thanh Long in SF. But when we were growing up, my parents just liked to cook it plain and simple. How’s that for a reversal? Maybe we didn’t like getting our fingers quite so messy at HOME versus at a restaurant, where you had no choice. Hah.
    And on Christmas Day, Meat Boy did indulge in surf and turf — Dungeness and prime rib, cooked in his Big Green Egg.

    Wotten1: Uh, I’m trying to do my part for the environment and not use so much gas? Yeah, that’s it. OK, OK, the real reason is 99 Ranch is 15 minutes away versus 45 minutes to Pillar Point. 😉

  • We had crab cakes last night!

    I like to steam crabs but at the Fish Market, they serve roasted crab. I want to try that.

  • Have a wonderful new year with your hubby Carolyn, and enjoy the crab…if your man can lay hold of one! LOL

  • We always have crab during Chinese New Year and my family steams them then everyone fights over the yummy goodness under the shell!

  • Carolyn – I was just talking to my friend that I am thinking to make baked dungeness crab ala Crustacean / Thanh Long’s style (I have the knock-off recipe on my site) for New Year’s eve!!! Love your simple beer crab. Happy holidays to you and your loved ones. 🙂

  • Just got back from Arizona for the holidays and when we stopped at Berkeley Bowl on the way back from the airport that is the first thing I bought. LOVE crab at this time of year. Don’t need lemon, don’t need butter, just that sweet, sweet meat and a bottle of champagne – that is the life!

  • My hubby and I have decided to stay in and have a nice dinner alone. His family visited for a week and we’re pooped. This recipe may very well be sitting on our dinner table tomorrow night. I’ve been craving crab lately. Love how it’s boiled in beer. Thanks for sharing. Happy New Year, Carolyn!

  • Last week for xmas Mr. K fended his way to the local Chinese market for live crab, which had hiked the price to slightly less than HMB fishing boat prices. He was lucky to get three small ones, which yielded only two front claws between them all. We’re going out to HMB on Saturday early for fresher and less mangled critters! I’ve heard that boiling in beer improves the flavor, gotta give that a try. Happy New Year Foodgal!

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