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Craving crab

Submitted photo/Liz KellarCrab Curry
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

After spending five years on the foggy Monterey Bay coast, there is much I don’t miss.

Like the unending drizzle, for one. And the annoying political correctness that plagues the area, for another.

But those rare sun-kissed days when all you want to do is pull on your wet suit and run out to the beach with your boogie board, I miss them more than I realized I would.



I also miss the superlative seafood. We lived for almost two years on an old fishing boat in Moss Landing, and you haven’t lived until you’ve tried salmon just hours out of the bay, quickly steamed in white wine and dill.

In Moss Landing, there is one of the best fish restaurants in the country, Phil’s Fish Market.




The first time I went there, the woman in front of me told the cashier she drove down from San Francisco just for the crab cakes.

I didn’t have to think twice about what to order. Turns out, though, that Phil’s also makes some of the best cioppino on the planet, stuffed to bursting with crab, mussels, squid and fish in a rich tomato broth spiced intriguingly with cinnamon.

And Phil’s makes the best crab salad sandwich on Earth, with tons of fresh crab, just enough mayonnaise, and melted cheddar cheese. I’m not exaggerating, by the way. Sunset Magazine has given Phil’s several mentions in the past.

But now that I live in landlocked Nevada County. I can’t get my crab jones appeased that easily anymore. Of course, my bank account is doing a little better, because Phil’s is fantastic but it’s not cheap.

But it’s crab season and I’ve finally decided its time to start cooking crab for myself.

I decided not to try plain boiled crab, because my husband unfortunately believes its too much trouble to crack his own crab and neither of us needs the calories involved in melted butter.

Instead I opted to try a variation of Singapore crab, which involves crab pieces still in the shell, and stir-fried in a wok with spices. I’ve tried other types of seafood in a

Singapore-style sauce, which differs from other Asian sauces in that it often uses ketchup as its base. This is not a dish for those with timid palates, however, so be warned.

I’ve included that recipe, as well as one for cioppino, one for a crab curry and one for a really decadent and easy crab dip. This last recipe can also be made with surimi, or fake crab.

Singapore Crab

2 large live Dungeness crabs, each about 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 pounds

10-12 fresh red chilies, stemmed, seeded and chopped

2 tablespoons minced garlic

2 tablespoons minced shallots

1 tablespoon finely grated ginger root

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus additional

For the sauce:

1/2 cup ketchup

1 1/2 cups water

1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce

1/3 cup Thai sweet chile sauce

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon cornstarch combined with 2 tablespoons water

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

3 tablespoons sliced green onion for garnish

In a casserole or large pot of boiling salted water, add the crabs and cook them for about one minute, or until no longer moving. Drain and set aside until cool enough to handle.

To clean the crabs pull off top shells; pull and twist off each apron; remove gills. With sharp knife cut crabs into quarters, rinse and drain. In small food processor, process chilies, garlic, shallots and ginger with a little oil, if necessary. Combine all sauce ingredients.

Heat a wok over moderately high heat. Add 2 tablespoons oil and heat until hot. Add chili and garlic paste and stir-fry 1 minute.

Add crabs and stir-fry 2 to 3 minutes or until shells turn red. Add sauce ingredients, bring to boil and simmer, covered, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer crabs to serving dish.

Bring sauce in wok to a boil. Stir cornstarch mixture and add to wok. Simmer until thickened. Gradually add eggs in a stream, whisking, and cook for 1 minute. Pour sauce over crabs and garnish with scallion.

Crab Curry

1 1/2 pounds jumbo lump crab meat

1 medium onion

3 large garlic cloves

1-inch piece fresh ginger root

2 dried hot red chilies

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 teaspoon brown or black mustard seeds

1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/4 cup packed fresh cilantro sprigs

1 1/2 cups canned unsweetened coconut milk

1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt, or to taste

Pick over crab meat to remove any bits of shell and cartilage. Chop onion and mince garlic. Peel ginger root and mince. Wearing protective gloves, break chilies into 1-inch pieces and reserve, along with any seeds.

In a 4- to 5-quart kettle, heat oil over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Cook mustard seeds until they begin to pop. Stir in onion, garlic, ginger root, reserved chilies with seeds, and peppercorns.

Cook, stirring, until chilies are just browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in other spices until combined well. Add crab and cook mixture, gently stirring occasionally (avoid breaking up crab), about 4 minutes.

While crab mixture is cooking, chop cilantro. Stir cilantro into crab mixture with coconut milk and salt and simmer until slightly thickened, 6 to 8 minutes. Spoon curry over rice and garnish with scallion greens.

Cioppino

4 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 cup olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped fine

1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes

1 green bell pepper, chopped

1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar

1 1/2 cups dry white wine

1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled

1 bay leaf

One 28-to 32-ounce can whole tomatoes including juice, pureed coarse

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 pounds live hard-shelled crabs

12 small hard-shelled clams, scrubbed well

1/2 pound medium shrimp, shelled, leaving tails and first joint intact

1/2 pound sea scallops

1 pound scrod or other white fish fillet, cut into 1-inch pieces

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

In a heavy kettle (at least 5 quarts) cook garlic in oil over moderate heat, stirring, until pale golden. Add onion and cook, stirring, until softened. Add pepper flakes and bell pepper and cook, stirring, until softened. Add vinegar and boil until evaporated. Add wine, oregano, and bay leaf and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in tomato puree and tomato paste and bring to a boil.

Add crabs and clams and simmer, covered, 15 to 20 minutes, checking often and transferring clams as they open with tongs to a bowl (discard unopened ones).

Transfer crabs with tongs to a cutting board and remove top shells, adding any crab liquid to soup. Halve or quarter crabs (depending on size) and reserve, with any additional liquid, in a bowl.

Add shrimp, scallops, and fish to soup and simmer, covered, 5 minutes, or until seafood is just cooked through. Stir in gently crabs, their liquid, and clams and sprinkle with parsley.

Rob’s Crab Dip

1 pound cream cheese

1 half-pint sour cream

4 tablespoons mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

3 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon dry mustard

3 shakes garlic powder

1 1/2 cups grated Cheddar cheese

1 pound crab meat

1/2 cup grated Cheddar cheese

Mix first eight ingredients together, then gently fold in crab. Pour into a greased casserole and top with remaining cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Serve with sliced French bread and cut-up vegetables for dipping.

Liz Kellar, a resident of Union Hill, has cooked at brew pubs, four-star bed-and-breakfast inns and university dining halls. She has catered intimate dinners for 20 and barbecues for 2,000. You can write her in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.


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