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Reed Hearon’s Crack Crab Recipe

Every year here, the beginning of Dungeness crab season and Thanksgiving collide, making crab for Turkey Day a great SF tradition. Friday was the beginning of the crab season here, so to celebrate, Joe went down to Clement Street and bought six hefty—very feisty—live crabs and brought them home, stuffed in his messenger bag, to cook for an impromptu dinner party.

Joe used to work at Lulu in its heyday, where one of the city’s most famous (and mysterious) ex-chefs, Reed Hearon, made his name. At a holiday party one year, Reed whipped this recipe up. Reed is now m.i.a., but luckily this recipe has lived on—in Joe’s head. It might be the best crab I’ve had in my life: Broken up, slathered in fennel, fresh thyme, garlic and chili flakes and grilled, until charred, it’s spicy, smoky and aromatic—basically, complete crack. And I don’t use the word crack lightly.

(Warning: Cook this for Thanksgiving and no one will want to eat anything else. I’d suggest making it the day after with a salad tossed with a good, bracing dressing.)

Reed Hearon’s Crack Crab
This recipe is slightly rough, but a little more, a little less of the seasoning won’t make a difference. Serves 4

4 live crabs, about 2 pounds each

Rub:
4 big pinches of chili flakes
4 big pinches of fennel seeds
1 small handful of fresh thyme, stemmed and chopped
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 tablespoon of kosher salt (more or less)
Enough olive oil to make a wet rub

To prepare the live crab for the grill, place them in boiling water for 3 minutes a piece, just enough to kill them but not completely cook them. (Cover the pot so you don’t have to look.) When the crabs have cooled, rip off the crown and clean out all the guts and butters. Halve, then quarter. Use a hammer to break the legs just so that they’re cracked enough to let in all the flavor but not so that they’re destroyed. Place on a sheet tray.

To make the rub, take all the ingredients and place them in a mortar and pestle and pound. Alternatively, place in a spice/coffee grinder and grind until a nice, damp paste has formed. Slather the crab pieces in the paste, adding more olive oil if necessary to lubricate.

Get a grill as hot as possible and place the crab directly on it. Close the cover and grill for 2 minutes. Open it back up and brush on whatever remaining rub you have and close the lid again. Grill for 10 minutes more until nice and charred. Serve with lemon, although it really needs nothing more.