There are those who methodically create a stock pile and then there are those who dig and devour every morsel they find. There are leg men vs. body people, garlic butter dunkers vs. lemon mayonnaise dippers. Head to most restaurants during the Winter and early Spring months in San Francisco and you are sure to spot this motley group of people. Who are they? They are devoted dungeness crab eaters.
Crab is not only a meal, but also a ritual for San Franciscans. Ask most seafood loving locals, and they will tell you a story or two of long nights with friends gathered around a table filled with cooked crab. A dungeness crab meal to San Franciscans would be like a crawfish boil for someone from the South. People cook together, people crack together, people party together and most importantly people eat crab together.
Fresh dungeness crab is used in many signature recipes throughout the restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area. From crab salad starters to California rolls, or crab bisque to a San Francisco/Italian specialty, crab cioppini, dungeness crab is a versatile ingredient. But, for a true San Francisco experience, one should try a meal of just cooked cracked crab, served in large ice filled bowls with your choice of dipping sauces and a loaf of San Francisco sourdough bread.
How does a local get his hands on some fresh crab? He heads to the docks, of course. There’s touristy Fisherman’s Wharf, where dungeness crab, when in season, can be found at almost any fish stand. If you want a slightly less crowded affair, you can head over to Johnson Pier in Half Moon Bay and pick up some crabs straight off an incoming boat. There’s also plenty of crab stands in Oakland, Santa Cruz or even in Monterey. Once your crabs have been obtained, all you need is an extra large pot to boil them in. The next part of cleaning the crab can be a bit more than some may want, but there are plenty of online tutorials to guide you through. Once cooked and cleaned, all that is left to do is crack them, something an everyday hammer is great at doing.
Many serve the cooled crab with a delicious fresh salad and fine California Chardonnay, and as mentioned earlier, some San Francisco sourdough bread. This meal is enjoyed throughout the crab season, but don’t be surprised to see this meal served on festive occasions such as Christmas. While much of the United States may be buried in snow and winter stews, it’s definitely not unheard of to have a balmy 65 degree Christmas Day in the city by the Bay.
So, be sure to plan your next California adventure when it’s dungeness crab season, to not miss out on this true San Francisco treat. Once you’ve experienced this meal, you too will find your crab prowess. Are you a butter dunker or mayonnaise dipper? Do you prefer legs or the body? It only takes a few bites to find out.
California Department of Fish and Wildlife – Calendar of Events (determine whether crab are in season)
Half Moon Bay Crab Boats (on Yelp)
Dungeness Crab Season – 10 Things You Should Know (on PopSugar)
10 Things You Should Know About Dungeness Crabs (on Food Republic)
Basic Steamed Dungeness Crab (recipe on Chow)