Commercial Dungeness crab season is red hot and rolling despite cold and wet conditions and a five-week delay to the start of the fishing season. We joined commercial fishermen to learn more about the season and then headed into the kitchen where fishermen shared their favorite crab recipes that offer a taste of the Oregon coastal life.
Dean Ellsworth says his 44-foot fishing boat, the Nola K, is his “home away for home” at this time of year. Ellsworth and his three-man crew spend long days and nights tossing out and pulling in nearly a thousand 80-pound crab pots during a fishing season that’s finally hitting its stride.
“The crab season means a lot to us,” noted Ellsworth, a longtime crab fishermen who began fishing more than 45 years ago. ”Frankly, hundreds of people work on boats or in canneries and the crab season is a critical part of small town economies.”
Dungeness crab commercial fishing season opened January 4 following a five-week delay due to a naturally occurring toxin called “Domoic Acid.” Fishermen and seafood processors voluntarily postponed the traditional December 1st opening until the toxin disappeared.
Steve Fick, owner of Fishhawk Fisheries, said the crabbing delay was a costly closure, but it was the right thing to do. “We want to be absolutely sure the product is safe. We can’t afford recalls, and we obviously don’t want anybody sick. We don’t want to tarnish the good name of Oregon’s Dungeness crab.”
Steve’s nephew, Tyson Fick, is a seafood marketing rep and recommended that crab consumers eat the meat but not the internal organs, the viscera. “The state has already determined that the crab is safe and clear of domoic acid, but I suggest an additional safeguard: eat the meat, not the viscera.”
Fick and his fishing friends love to eat fresh crab as much as they like to catch them. The trio recently met to prepare three of their favorite crab recipes.
Recipe #1 is an easy to fix Dungeness Crab Dip:
Combine ½ cup each of low-fat mayo, low-fat sour cream and yogurt. Steve said he will cut the calories by 70 percent using this low-fat approach. “It is a really simple dip emphasizing low calories so you can eat this without feeling bad about it.”
He seasoned the dip with a tablespoon each of parsley and green onions, one teaspoon each of ground pepper and paprika, plus a tablespoon of dry ranch dressing. Then he folded in two cups of cracked Dungeness crab.
He placed the bowl of crab dip on a platter and surrounded it with varied vegetables. “The crab is really excellent quality this year so this will be delicious,” added Fick with a smile.
Crab Recipe #2 follows the same low-calorie theme and it is called Salmon-Wrapped Crab.
Fick cut thin strips from a salmon filet, each approximately 6-7 inches long and 2 inches wide. The thin-cut salmon strips provided a base for a tablespoon of crab mix. For the mix, Steve blended one cup low-fat mayonnaise with two tablespoons each of finely chopped yellow peppers and finely chopped onion, plus one cup of crab meat.
He rolled up the salmon strip around the crab mix and poked a toothpick through the salmon to hold it all together.
The Salmon-Wrapped Crab went under the oven broiler for 2 and a half minutes, then he added a pinch of parmesan cheese atop each wrap and placed the tray back under the broiler for another minute and a half.
The key, he cautioned, “is not to cook the fish too long or it will dry out.”
Crab Recipe #3 found them outdoors on a rainy winter’s night where they cooked up a Dungeness Crab Feast.
Begin by placing corn on the cob – each ear is wrapped in foil – atop the barbeque grill. (He used a Weber-style grill with white-hot charcoal for heat.)
Grill an assortment of vegetables as a side dish for the Crab Feast; sliced yellow squash, green zucchini, sliced peppers, asparagus spears and red onions.
Grilled oysters are a fine compliment to the crab. Place whole oysters in the shell atop the grill and close the lid until the oysters started to pop open (about 10 minutes), then dab a small amount of butter and cooked bacon inside each oyster.
Meanwhile, Terry Hartil placed cooked crab sections atop the Weber grill: “You’re not trying to cook it again – it’s already been cooked. All you want to do is warm it back up and you can and smoky flavor to it with wood chips. After 2-3 minutes it comes out warm and delicious.”
Terry Hartil is co-owner of Seaside, Oregon’s Bell Buoy Seafood and said that a Dungeness Crab Feast is a long Oregon tradition. “People just love this crab! It’s a coastal tradition to do this in the winter too. You can’t believe the amount of people who come in and say ‘When I was a little kid, my dad and grandpa brought me into the store and they bought dozens of crabs.’ We put them out on a table for a traditional crab feed every year.”
Soon it was assembly time on a table jammed with the varied dishes and Oregon wines and brews. “Dungeness crab meals can be social events,” said Fick. “Really a nice way of bringing people together – everyone at the table picking at their food and socializing.”
And the best part is that the recipes are so easy, anyone can try and something to consider while Dungeness crab is in season.