The reigning crab of the West Coast, Dungeness are rolling into the Pier in full throttle now in the Bay Area. Although the large crustaceans get their name from the Northern port town of Dungeness, Washington, these hard-shells are very much a San Francisco thing. Swan Oyster Depotdoles them out in pure form: cold, cracked and served with slabs of butter and locally baked sourdough bread. Then there are garlic-and-olive-oil roasted numbers at Scoma's on the Wharf, Dungeness crab rolls at Woodhouse Fish Co., crab pizzas at Bar Bocce in Sausalito, cioppino bobbing with crab chunks at Sotto Mare in North Beach, and even La Mar's Dungeness crab causas, neatly layering Dungeness crab meat clusters atop little mounds of whipped potato with quail egg and avocado. We might be limited by seasonality in this town, but innovation knows no bounds.
The Dungeness season lasts until June every year, when the harvest slowly moves up the coast to Portland, then Washington before the year's out. Anyone who's ever eaten Maryland blue crabs on the East Coast will notice Dungeness can be up to double the size with less sweetness to the flesh.
Waterbar's Parke Ulrich describes Dungeness as sweet, but with "a bit of a savory, almost sea water flavor, that is deeper and lasts longer." The larger Dungeness size means these crabs are easier to clean and pick than their East Coast brethren, even though they still only yield about 25% of their total weight from dock to plate.
There are several ways to prepare them. The Dungeness crab egg drop soup Ulrich serves at Waterbar gets its rich, deep flavor simply from boiling a whole crab in the broth as it cooks. Ulrich also likes to oven-roast the crustaceans to concentrate the flavor. His chili-glazed Dungeness are brushed with a sweet, spicy, sticky glaze, evoking all the same finger-licking pleasures of well-seasoned fried chicken.
To kick off crab feed season in January and February, Hog & Rocks will host a 4-course feed of its own on New Years Eve. Butter, hot cocktail sauce, fresh bread and vegetables from the boil, like artichokes, brussels sprouts, corn and potatoes will round out the meal. But it's really all about the crab. This year, you can also keep on the lookout for fixed price crab dinners on the heated outdoor patio at Starbelly (I'm told they'll announce the next one on their Facebook page). Or you can always go crabbing for yourself. Personally, I'm far more comfortable with a fork in hand than a crab hoop net and a bait cage, so I'll be sticking to the above spots for now, thank you very much.
Chefs and diners, what's your favorite local take on Dungeness crab? The comments section is a great place to talk about it.