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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

July 3, 2013 at 10:08 AM

Chef Tom Douglas has tips for preparing Dungeness crabs

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(Chef Tom Douglas photo by Greg Gilbert, Seattle Times staff photographer)

The summer Dungeness crab fisheries are now in full swing, and many will be bringing home their catches to prepare for a tasty meal.

Seattle chef and restaurateur Tom Douglas will contribute some of his tasty cooking advice and recipes for the Reel Time Fishing NW blog in our Catch of the Week each Wednesday through October. Catch of the Day will also include recipes from other local chefs, tackle shop owners and fish-market owners.

Douglas is owner of Lola, Palace Kitchen, Dahlia Lounge, Dahlia Bakery, Etta’s, Serious Pie Downtown, Seatown, Brave Horse Tavern, Cuoco, Serious Biscuit and Serious Pie Westlake. Another new Douglas restaurant that just opened is Tanaka San at the Via6 Apartment Complex in downtown Seattle.

Here are some suggestions by Chef Douglas on how to “wow” friends and family once the 10-legged delights hit the table:

Meaty and flavorful Dungeness crabs, affectionately called “Dungies,” are found all along the Pacific coast from Mexico to Alaska.  The simplest way to prepare Dungies is to boil them in salted water, then serve them either hot or chilled, with melted butter, lemon, and mayonnaise. If you purchased pre-cooked and cleaned Dungies at the fish market, serve them the same way, steaming them gently just to heat if you prefer them warm.

For a Douglas family Dungeness crab feast, one 2½ pound crab per person is considered de rigueur.    A 2½ pound crab may seem large, but when it’s shelled, that’s about 8 ounces of crabmeat.  At the fish market, I choose live crabs from the tank that are large, heavy and lively, tapping on the shells to be sure they don’t sound hollow.

The flavor of Dungeness is lighter than the blue crab I grew up with in Delaware, so you want to stay away from the heavy Old Bay seasoning in the water and use, instead, citrus and aromatics: lemons and bay leaves or oranges and fennel.  While preparing the pot, I keep the crabs on their backs so they won’t be able to scurry away.  Then I cook them in the seasoned boiling water in Jackie’s gargantuan, speckled black, enameled, thirty-three quart preserving pot.

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(Seattle Times outdoors reporter Mark Yuasa holds up a nice Dungeness crab)

When the crabs are cooked, the shells will turn red and will be covered with some of the coagulated crab juices, which look like cooked egg white.  If you’re not sure, pull a crab out, pull off the top shell and look at the meat, which should be white and not translucent.  Drain the crabs and quickly rinse them with cold water so you don’t wash away the flavor.

When I opened my restaurant, Seatown, we had a Crab Boil on the menu that was served to the customer in the same Le Creuset pot it was cooked in.  For one or two people, sauté onion, peppers, and garlic in olive oil in a small Le Creuset Dutch oven, add some chunks of potatoes and 2-inch segments of corn on the cob (both pre-cooked), a good splash of white wine and a couple splashes of chicken stock.  Add the whole Dungeness crab, which has already been cooked and cut into 1/8ths, and a sprinkle of  Rub with Love Crab Cake Mix or a crab boil spice mix (such as Zatarain’s).  Simmer just until everything is heated through, then serve on a trivet at the table, right from the pot.

Eating crab in the shell is delightfully messy.  Provide crab crackers or crab hammers, cocktail forks, bowls for the shells, a big stack of napkins, and lemon water for cleaning your hands. To drink, try a Washington Pinot Gris.

The Dungeness crab fishing season is open in Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca east of Sekiu through Sept. 2. Fishing is allowed Thursday to Mondays only.

The San Juan Islands southern section opens July 15 to Sept. 30, and the northern part opens Aug. 15 to Sept. 30. Fishing is allowed Thursdays to Mondays only.

For more information, go to http://wdfw.wa.gov/.

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