Wok-Fried Dungeness Crab with Tamarind Sauce & Pinot Gris

From California to Alaska right now, Dungeness Crabs are in season. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I am lucky to have great access to sweet, juicy Dungeness Crabs right in my “backyard”. Every crab season, I enjoy eating out in a seafood restaurant where live crabs get picked out of a tank and steamed right in front of me. In an attempt to come up with some fabulous New Years Eve meal ideas, I’ve decided to get a bit adventurous this week and experiment with cooking crabs in my kitchen.

I went to Ranch 99 and picked out two big, fat Dungeness Crabs from a tank. A server asked me, “Do you want them cleaned?” Not knowing what to expect (i.e. how do you clean live crabs without getting bitten?), I paused for awhile and then quietly said, “Yes”. The server placed the moving crabs on the cutting board and immediately pulled off their shells. Even without their shells on, the crabs were still moving around on the cutting board. My face turned pale with a horrid shock.  I thought the crabs were crying.  The server then hosed down the “tortured” live crabs with water and asked me, “Do you want me to cut?” I said, “Yes, please!”. I wasn’t going to walk around the street with moving, “shell-less” crabs in pain. When I was finally done with shopping and walked out of the store with a bag full of “fresh” crabs, I thought, “I hope it tastes great for all the trouble it just went through”.

I am wok-frying the “specially cleaned” crabs with tamarind sauce tonight. First, I heat a wok and add some peanut oil. Then, I sauté minced garlic (4 cloves) and add 2 Tablespoons tamarind pulp (softened in warm water), ¼ cup sake, 2 Tablespoons fish sauce, 2 Tablespoons brown sugar and some freshly ground black pepper. Then , I add the “freshly cleaned & chopped” crabs and simmer in the sauce until they are cooked. Lastly, I sprinkle ¼ cup chopped green onions and serve over steamed white rice.

This wok-fried Dungeness Crab came out unbelievable! It’s one of the BEST crab dishes I’ve ever had in my life. I don’t know if it’s because of the sauce I made or the way the crabs got “cleaned”. Whatever it is, I just couldn’t believe something growing in a shell with 10 legs can blow away the mind and palette. If I could find a restaurant serving a dish like this, I’d eat there every single day.

I paired this dish with a 2008 Pinot Gris grown in the Hahn Winery’s Lone Oak vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands. Aromas & flavors of pear, honey and pineapple with notes of lemongrass nicely highlighted the tamarind sauce. My dinner & wine was a marriage made in the heaven.

Our fabulous Dungeness Crab season is supposed to last for another 3-5 months. Whole Foods Market and Farmer’s Markets have been selling it at $3.50/lb for the past several weeks. Enjoy delicious fresh crabs in season and let me know how your recipe comes out. Happy New Year!

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