After dropping the Mister off at SFO’s International terminal, I headed south through the hills and past the flower fields to Half Moon Bay. There is a nice old main street with a couple of book stores and coffee shops and a kitchen ware store where the owner asked where I was from having perceived an accent. He was an “ex-pat” Southerner himself and told me about the cazuela type clay pots he had there, beautiful black casseroles and paella pans of unglazed clay. I got a cup of coffee and went to look at the beautiful green sea, watching the white horses come thundering in. It’s incredibly beautiful today, warm and clear.
I headed north to the top of the gold crescent of the bay, just inside the curve that protects the bay from the giant winter swells that make the Mavericks the legendary big-wave surf spot, to the harbour in search of Dungeness crabs. I’ve never actually cooked a live one myself, and a solitary evening is a good time to allow myself the option of spectacular failure. The first place I stop is a warehouse with a sign advertising fresh fish; they have whole filets of smoked salmon curing in a walk in fridge but no live crabs. Next stop, the harbour and fishing pier where boats are docked. “Jimbo” has live crabs, according to his sign, so I holler over the rail to find out how much and how do I get down there. He had a tub full of lively crabs, two of which made a break for it as soon as he took the lid off.
I was worried about my crab making a break for it all the way home- I kept anticipating an “Annie Hall” moment and honestly, if that crab had gotten out of the bag and out into the car, I may have just let it have the car. This is a big, tough, intimidating crustacean. I’m thinking it could lop of a finger, no problem. But great meals are not accomplished by cowards and I remind myself that someone had to eat that first oyster.
Some Taiwanese friends with lots of crab cooking experience told me that the most humane way to cook a crab is to put it into a cold pot with some salt, water and seasoning and then slowly bring it up to steam. Having read David Foster Wallace’s essay “Consider the Lobster”, I’m not completely confident about this, but it’s the best idea I’ve heard so far.
Twenty minutes later, out it came, it’s purple shell now vermillion. I gloved up and cracked off the top shell, pulled out the gills, the mandibles and the apron and cracked the whole thing in half. It’s surprisingly straightforward once you grasp the concept. I don’t have a cracker, so I used a small cast iron skillet to crack the legs. I’ve got a baguette, an herb salad and a glass of wine. I decided it was a good idea to change out of any potentially “dry clean only” clothes, armed myself with paper towels, rolled up my machine-washable sleeves and got crackin’. The reward for my risk? Sweet, fresh chunks of crab – oh, and I found a new use for that clarified butter I was talking about.