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Sonoma County Gazette
Dungeness Crab. One neat little crab,
Dungeness Crab. One neat little crab, the genus was Cancer spp., the algae in front is Egregia (Feather Boa Kelp). Photo by Jerry Kirkhart - Flickr - 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Now for Something Completely Different
Dr. T’s Little Crabbies...

Jan 29, 2020
by Dr. Michael Trapani


This is my 100th column for The Sonoma County Gazette! 

During the past eight-plus years, I have written about my patients and their diseases, discussed the daily life and trials of the small-town veterinarian, lauded veterinary hospital staff, and trashed both on-line "wisdom" and corporate veterinary mega-practices. I have dissed crazy people, offered "Miss Manners" style instructions describing polite veterinary hospital etiquette, and even channeled the internal organs of "Spot," a mystical dog whose organs talk - and argue - about their critical functions and relative importance. It’s been a heck of a ride!

But today, on the cente-column-enial of my tenure with The Gazette, I want to do something completely different, something I should have done years ago (and for this failure I am truly sorry). 

As some of you may have guessed, I am of Italian descent. As such, I am genetically compelled to cook for anyone foolish enough to enter my home. My culinary skill, while inherited (and therefore something for which I deserve no credit) is, if I say so myself, considerable. BUT, the pinnacle of my cooking accomplishment is the recipe that I shall reveal here: Dr. T’s Crazy Good Dungeness Crab!

It all began over twenty years ago, when my soul rebelled at the suffering of them poor little crabbies being dropped alive into boiling water. That’s gotta hurt! Worse, commercially prepared crab are dumped wholesale into huge pots of boiling water, which immediately cool to the point where many crabs remain alive a while. These animals die slowly while the pot reheats and reboils.

After studying crab anatomy and physiology, I decided that the nicest thing to do is to ice the crab a couple of hours. At that point, they are insensible and ready to be quickly split in half, cleaned and steamed...not boiled alive releasing stress toxins. Photo: - Creative Commons CC0.Don’t get me wrong here. I have no problem with killing the crab. I think of it as helping them proceed along their path towards reincarnation as a higher life form (that is, me). No, killing them is not my problem. I just don’t want to hurt them. Why? Because a world with less pain and suffering is a better world. Ask any crab.

After studying crab anatomy and physiology, I decided that the nicest thing to do is to ice the crab. I pack them in a bucket of ice for a couple of hours. At that point, they are insensible. They are easily and safely handled, and barely move. NOW, killing them is kind and simple. I prefer a machete and a rubber mallet. Place the crab on his back on a wooden pillar and set the blade over his midline, then make a single, solid whack with the mallet and split the crab completely in half. Crabs go immediately limp, their nervous system cut cleanly in half, and their entire blood volume emptied in an instant. It’s as close to painless as a crab’s death can be.

Why bother? BECAUSE THEY TASTE BETTER! These crabs don’t spend their last minutes suffering, flooding their system with stress hormones. They never know what hit them.

Think about it: What meat do you eat that is cooked with the guts? I have no desire for crab guts and poop to be boiled into my food. Clean the crab: tear off the carapace, remove the viscera (with a single quick swing over a deserving plant), and tear off the tail, mouthparts, and gills. Then, hold the crab by the legs and swing them vertically to remove as much blood as possible. Perform this process in your garden. Plants love crab blood. My aloe goes crazy on the stuff. 

Why bother? You know that late bitter flavor of Dungeness crab? THAT’S THE BLOOD. When you drain the blood, the crab meat is sweeter.

Now the meat is snow white. Only the parts of the crab you will eat go into the pot. I place the cleaned crabs back on ice until I’m ready to cook.

Ask yourself: What barbarian would boil a fine piece of meat?  Boiling crab gives you a soft shell and soggy meat. No, Dungeness crab has to be steamed.

Boiling crab gives you a soft shell and soggy meat. No, Dungeness crab has to be steamed. Photo: - Creative Commons CC0.

Take a big pot and place a vegetable steaming rack in the bottom. Add an inch or so of water (just enough to touch the bottom of the steaming rack) and add sea salt adequate to approximate seawater. Add a glug or two of apple cider vinegar, a big heaping tablespoon of Old Bay Seasoning, and a heaping tablespoon of powdered chicken bouillon, then stir to mix, replace the steaming rack, cover the pot and place on the stove to heat.

Bring the pot to a boil, so that steam starts to escape from the lid. Then, add the crab (fill to the top!) and cover. Continue heating until steam begins to escape again. Watch the pot! When it begins steaming, set the timer and steam for 38 minutes, not more, not less. When the timer goes off, stack the crab in a big bowl and serve immediately.

You can serve with butter or lemon, but really, this recipe needs nothing but sourdough French bread: Butter that. You will find that the meat is sweet, the shells crack easily, and that the flesh is firm and flakes easily from the shell. Enjoy!

The Family Pet by Dr. Michael Trapani



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