The Sonoma County Gazette: Community News Magazine
Sonoma County Gazette
| more

Photo Gallery

Crawling Cuisine - by Ron Skaar


Crawling Cuisine - by Ron Skaar

by Ron Skaar

by Ron Skaar, photo by Jon Russo

Humans have been devouring crustaceans since prehistoric times. Harvesting and consuming shellfish dates back 40,000 years. Excavation at ancient sites has affirmed crabs, mussels and other shellfish graced human meals well before they took to eating them off of tables.

The Babylonians, around 2100 B.C., used the unique crab to describe the constellation Cancer. Ancient Greeks and Romans indulged in eating crab, while not with much enthusiasm. Medieval diners, near the coast, consumed crustaceans although they presented difficulties at their formal meals. Lobster, crab and crayfish were enjoyed throughout the mid-fifteen century Renaissance, but there taste seldom reached far inland.

Long referred to as the “insects of the sea”, crustaceans are among the most abundant   earths animals. Blind swarms of shellfish inhabit caves and deep wells below the earths surface while terrestrial species have been found flourishing 2 ½ miles up, in the Andes.

The numerous unseen forms, plankton, are the premier link between the surface hugging sea plant life and the multitude of fish and whales below.

There are approximately 25,000 described species of crustaceans with 4,500 of those

belonging to the crab variety. Crabs are tailless, their muscular claws enable these creatures to thrive in the deepest sea, burrow on land and even climb trees. Many are confined to fresh water while some can live under ice in the polar region as well as in thermal springs.

The crabs found in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans are of two main categories, the swimming crabs (such as the blue) and those that walk, like the rock crab. There are dozens included in both categories but only a handful dominate the market. Those hard-shell east coast blue crabs are the most prevalent variety, and during their swift molting season provide for “soft shell crabs”.

The Alaskan king is the largest of all crabs and can reach a phenomenal 12 feet from claw to claw. Japanese fisherman began hauling in king crab in the 1940’s and the boom

began in Alaskan waters, twenty years later. During a recent season, 250 boats harvested 14 million pounds of Red King crab, in just 4 days!

Our delicious Dungeness crab is another of the largest species. With their distinguished white tipped claws, they can be found from California to Alaska. The harbors and bays along the Pacific coast are active spawning grounds. Piers in Pacifica, Tamales Bay, Humboldt Bay and Crescent City are prime sites for catching fresh Dungeness. (It is illegal to “keep” in the San Francisco bay.)

Dungeness has a delicate, slightly sweet flavor and ¼ of its weight is meat. Crab meat is a good source of low-fat protein, omega-3 fatty acid, niacin and zinc, also supplying folate, iron and a healthy amount of the antioxidant mineral selenium. Three ounces of cooked crab contains 87 calories with 17 grams of protein and a whopping 250 percent of the recommended amount of vitamin B12.    

The “r” months, from October to March denote the Dungeness season. Fresh cooked crab meat will keep for two days in the refrigerator, but try to cook and enjoy it on the same day. This great crab deserves to be served simply, along with a squeeze of lemon and a classic sauce like the one featured below.


Dungeness Crab Salad With Avocado And Tomato

1 cup mayonnaise
¼ cup heavy cream
¼ cup chili sauce
¼ chopped scallions
¼ cup capers
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Head lettuce or Romaine
½ cup fresh Dungeness crabmeat
2 hard boiled eggs
2 tomatoes
1 avocado

Combine first seven ingredients in small bowl and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the plate with lettuce, fan half avocado in middle and mound with half of the crabmeat. Garnish with tomato, egg, lemon wedge and finish with sauce. Serves two.