I admit I’m not an avid viewer of the reality show Deadliest Catch, but I’ve seen enough of it to realize the perils those fishermen go through to get Alaskan crab for our plates. It’s flat out one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.
That said, I was tickled when I was asked to be part of a media event showcasing Red King Crab at the Cracked Crab restaurant in Pismo Beach. These crustaceans are aptly named – they turn red when cooked and the ones we were to be feasting upon had a leg span of about three feet, but some have been caught with a five-foot span. Definitely King of the Crabs!
(Only the males are harvested, by the way. Sorry guys, but you can fertilize up to 100 females, and they have to mother the embryos for a year until the little princes and princesses are big enough to strike out on their own.)
King Crab is listed as a “good” alternative on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, but be sure to take a good strong look at the country of origin. Cracked Crab owner Mike Lee noted that you should be sure that it’s caught by the American fleet in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. When it’s caught by other boats, especially Russian, it isn’t caught sustainably and it isn’t treated with the same care after being caught.
The Dutch Harbor crab company that Lee deals with (more on that in the next paragraph) puts the product through about 18 steps to ensure quality. Yes, it ends up costing a bit more, but Lee feels it’s more than worth it, not only in the superiority of the meat but also in the plant’s efforts to keep the fishery viable.
Lee knows firsthand of what he speaks. He’s been to Dutch Harbor several times over the past decade to tour the plant and has built up strong personal relationships with the crabbers – including some of the Deadliest Catch guys. That association has led to the fact that the Cracked Crab is the only domestic customer for the catch from that particular company – it just isn’t available anywhere else in the U.S.
I remember having King Crab as a kid and not liking it much, probably because it wasn’t caught or prepared properly. Well, the Cracked Crab and Chef Mike McGourty have certainly changed my mind. Even those of us spoiled by wonderful West Coast Dungeness can get on board with this crab – it’s meatier than Dungeness, but richer and just as sweet. The melted garlic butter wasn’t even necessary, and for me to say that about garlic and butter is saying a lot.
The King Crab also offered up its meat a lot easier than Dungeness, in part thanks to the crab scissors that Cracked Crab provided us. Just a couple snips up the leg joint (each leg weighed about a pound) and out came a succulent piece of whole meat.
Another intriguing dish served at this event was a plate of King Crab Tails. A negligible part of the crab on smaller species such as Dungeness, the tail of a King Crab – the part of the shell tucked up underneath the crab — actually has quite a bit of meat on it and is considered the bee’s knees in places such as Alaska. It’s not as tender as the regular crab meat, but it’s still yummy. McGourty gives them a deep-fried tempura treatment and serves them with a sweet-and-sour Thai dipping sauce.
Okay, now it’s time to talk about the King Crab in the room – the price. Yes, I realize that the princely sum of this crustacean means it’s not going to be an everyday meal, and that’s fine. The fishery can’t sustain that kind of consumption anyway. And speaking of fishing … go watch an episode of Deadliest Catch, preferably one with hurricane-force winds and 40-foot waves in it … then we’ll talk about price!