Pacific Coast residents have a longstanding holiday tradition of eating Dungeness crab, named after Dungeness Bay in Washington State, where the first commercial fishing for the species took place.
Although the tasty custom is said to date back to the mid-1800s, today dishes featuring Dungeness and other short-season crab species can be found on celebratory menus on both coasts, and just about everywhere in between.
"Crab is a special occasion food, not something you eat every day,” said Mark Richardson, executive chef at Dudley's on Short in Lexington, Ky. “It's rich and celebratory and perfect for ringing in the new year and indulging a bit."
On New Year’s Eve, diners at Dudley’s can indulge in Richardson’s chilled crab and avocado salad with mâche, pink grapefruit and chives, among other menu items.
Those ringing in the new year at Red Star Tavern in Portland, Ore., can whet their appetite for the celebratory meal with a Dungeness crab piadina. For this amuse-bouche, executive chef Dolan Lane uses a wood-fired oven to make mini dough rounds and tops them with a citrusy Dungeness crab salad and a dollop of mascarpone and caviar.
Although he’s from Boston and works in New York City, Christopher Stam, executive chef at DB Bistro Moderne by Daniel Boulud, admits he loves Dungeness crab. However, when it comes to the DB Bistro menu, he prefers to source local crabs that have a similar flavor profile to Dungeness, such as Jonah, which is native to the East Coast, from Newfoundland to Florida, instead of shipping West Coast varieties across the country.
“I do love Dungeness crab,” Stam said. “Jonah crab is like our version of that.”
For the past few weeks, Stam has been featuring an occasional special of squid-ink spaghettini with sautéed Jonah crab, sautéed rock shrimp, roasted tomato ragù and Calabrian chile oil.
Starting next week, he’ll also serve peekytoe crab crostini made with the East Coast crab meat dressed with shallot and lemon, served on a roasted garlic crostini with a whole-grain mustard mousseline and topped with shishito peppers and a dollop of Kaluga caviar.
Dungeness crab will also appear on the New Year’s Eve menu at Pazzo Ristorante in Portland, Ore., in the form of a Dungeness crab bisque drizzled with truffle cream and basil oil. And the newly opened Four Saints, a rooftop restaurant at the Kimpton Hotel in Palm Springs, Calif., will serve an appetizer of Dungeness crab, avocado, snap peas, grapefruit and poppy seeds.
This holiday season, some restaurants are menuing another equally indulgent crab species: Alaska King crab, the large cold-water crustacean prized for its long and meaty legs.
At Steak 48 in Chicago, the newest location of the Houston-based fine-dining steakhouse, is offering a number of such crab dishes, including King crab and avocado stack, a sculpted dish of Alaskan King crab, avocado and crispy wontons; Alaskan King crab and rock shrimp mac & cheese, made with Provel, parmesan and Tillamook cheddar cheeses; and a whole King crab cluster, served with the shell split and with drawn butter on the side.
While those dishes are always on the menu, Steak 48 corporate executive chef Marc Lupino said they really stand out during the holiday.
“[The King crab cluster] is a festive dish that will blow guests away and can be put in the center of the table for everyone to share and enjoy,” he said. “[The crab and shrimp mac & cheese] dish is a great holiday splurge for the flavors and the calories.”