after ten years or so of tinkering around with this dish, here is what i consider to be my best method of making "garlic roasted crab".
first, let me say something very important.
you get what you put into it.
i know not everyone has the means to get dungeness crab right from the water and i know not everyone has an awesome seafood wholesaler near by.... but do whatever you can to get the best ingredients, especially with seafood.
that being said, i live in san francisco. some of my buddies actually walk into the surf during dungeness season and pull them right out of the water. no bullshit.
we are extremely lucky to live in the bay area because among other things, we have amazing access to great ingredients. personally, i like to get all my dungeness crab from New England Lobster (NEL) in South San Francisco. a friend turned me onto this place and ive been a huge fan since. they are a wholesaler that sells to the public. when you see top restaurants on their client list, you know its got to be good. turnover is key to freshness. thats one reason why i prefer NEL. not saying our other reasources are bad... like Seafood Center on clement, Sun Fat on mission, or the ubiquitous 99 ranch.... they all come to mind when i think fresh live crab, but i personally think NEL has them all beat because of turnover.... (note, NEL usually closes around 2pm, as i said, they are a wholesaler and they have wholesale hours UPDATED NOTE. NEL IS NO LONGER JUST A WHOLESALER, BUT NO A MARKET AND RESTAURANT IN A NEW MUCH LARGER LOCATION)
long winded way of saying get the freshest crab you can.
right to it, this isn't a recipe, this is more a post about a technique. i think anyone can follow a recipe and reproduce something and thats how most of us start out in the kitchen, but i think that learning a technique is just as if not more important. you can apply techniques youve learned to current recipes to exponentially expand your cooking repertoire. so i wont list exact amounts, temperatures or anything like that, you can figure out for yourself or adjust things to your liking.... for example, if you don't want to use the crazy shit ton amount of butter i use, you can use olive oil. if youre cooking more crab, you can leave the crab submerged in your garlic bath at a lower temperature for a longer time...
that being said, here's some stuff you will need.
butter, LOTS AND LOTS OF BUTTER. the reason why i call this the confit method is that you will submerge all the crab parts into a bath of garlic, seasoning and butter. (yeah its more of poaching method, but saying confit makes me sound all smarted)
salt and pepper
as far as cookware, you will need a pot large enough to steam your crab flat, head down. you dont want to boil the crabs so a veggie steamer helps. heres what im using today.
its simply a large pot with a veggie steamer. (make sure your steamer stands are down so its above the water level. add enough water to steam for at least 15 mins. theres about an inch and a half of water under this steamer.
i actually have an aluminum 20 quart tamale steamer i use to steam up to 7 crabs. i also have various size stock pots for lesser quantities. its important to use the right size cookware. confucius says, you don't use a hatchet to kill a fly on a friends face.
steaming flat is VERY IMPORTANT. why? one of the ingredients will be "made" during this steaming process. you will see what im talking about in a bit.
a small food processor will be handy to puree the garlic, but if you don't have one, just mince up (mash up) your garlic by hand. honestly though, a food processor is kinda key for this cooking method. its really hard to mince up this crazy amount of garlic you will need. i take a handful of garlic (peeled, stem section trimmed) at a time and add some salt and pepper, some olive oil to lubricate, and puree the hell out of this. basically a salty garlic paste.
i add this to whatever pan im using that day. i used to use a small casserole dish to cook this dish. its enough to make one crab or so which was plenty for myself. i really didnt cook for guests back then, just for myself.
these days, im using a half or full hotel pan, the later being large enough to cook 10 crab! the vessel you want to use must be at least about an inch higher than the height of the crabs laid out flat in the butter bath. if it was me, i would use a pan deep and big enough so that the the crabs in the bath only take up half the space. when you move this pan around in the cooking process, the last thing you need is hot butter all over you.
heres where you should adjust things. last time i made a big batch of garlic roasted crab, i melted about 4 lbs of butter.... SCARY, I KNOW..... if you want to use more olive oil, no biggie...... but remember, all this butter ISNT going directly into your hearts, you are using this bath to cook, not to eat.
(NOTE, THE LEFTOVER CRAB BUTTER GARLIC BATH IS HELLLLLLA GOOD TO USE AS AN INGREDIENT IN OTHER DISHES. IT IS A STAPLE I ALWAYS HAVE IN MY FRIG... MORE ON THIS LATER)
back on track. melt enough butter to cover all the crab parts. this will all depend on the size of your crab, how many crab and the vessel size. tinker around. its half the fun.
add in the garlic paste. how much? well i tend to go with something like 1/4 to 3/4 paste to butter volume wise. dont worry too much about this. you will see as you "recycle and reuse" this bath gets more potent and the volumes and ratios really dont mean much.
heat this in mixture in an 350 oven.
meanwhile, the crab itself....
when your crab is fresh, its kicking, it will pinch you. you will get hurt. you will quickly realize that crab should be handled a very specific way. try to handle it from the back of it because they will have a hard time reaching you. put the crab in the freezer for about five minutes because this will put it to "sleep". you are going to want to rinse and scrub this badboy a bit so a sleeping crab is helpful. under running water, scrub scrub scrub, pay attention to the under carriage and the feathery part on either side of the underside of the head.
your sleeping beauty will quickly come back to life. HURRY. toss in this badboy head down flat in your piping hot steamer. steam for ten minutes. (adjust for number of crabs of course) you DONT want to cook it, just parsteam it. enough to kill the crab and start the cooking process.
during this time, check up on your garlic butter bath. it should have melted and warmed up a bit. season a bit. i like to taste this... yes, i just said i taste melted butter with garlic.... im gross i know. it should look something like this.
and a spoonful of the garlic on the bottom
(NOTE... this is ALOT of this garlic butter bath. im using an old batch of leftover garlic butter bath i had stored in a glass tupperware container. this is enough to make about 3-4 crabs in. )
leave oven at 350
about this time, your crab should be done steaming. pull it out carefully, and place HEAD DOWN somewhere you can work with it. id wait a minute to two so it cools a bit, but remember, it will still be burning hot. if some legs fell off, dont worry, just toss them into the bath. remove the flap on the underbelly.
you are now going to try to separate the head shell and the body and legs without spilling the contents of the shell. a bit tricky, but nothing too hard.
i use a pair of heat proof gloves to manhandle the crab at this point as its going to be BURNING!!!
i just put a bit of pressure on the head shell and with the other hand, a bit of pressure on the back of the crab. DONT SPILL!!!!
taste the brownish, yellowish liquid.... (if its blackish, its probably not good. you probably got an old crab.)
this is what people call crab butter. it should have a nice briny, slightly salty taste to it. this is one of the main reasons why you need fresh crabs. them guts and and brains and organs go bad hella quick. if the crab is not fresh, this crab butter will be disgusting. if its fresh, this will be liquid gold.
this is gold. i just pour this liquid right into the bath through a strainer
now theres more of this gold but its going to get a bit squishy now. there should be some guts and fats stuck to the shell. put that in a strainer. the body of the crab (its actually called the knuckle and legs and claws) will be "sealed" in with a membrane in the center part of the knuckle. break through this meaty membrane and scoop out the crab butter into the same strainer.
get it all!! this is the magical crab butter that makes everything damn good.
now a side note. if you feel all grossed out because its guts and stuff, please grow up. this is really the magical stuff. innards of all sorts of creatures make the damn best sauces. its not gross. its what makes dishes shine.
strain the crab butter through your strainer as best as possible. i like to take a spoon and scrape and push it through. you will only be left with a fraction of what you started with. most of the volume of the crab butter is liquid and as such you want to get as much as possible through.
back to prepping the crab. remove the lungs on the side of the knuckles and other bits that don't look like it belongs on a finished product. some more membranes, loose pieces that make up its antennas and mouth...
break the crab in half, its easy (or chop it). then chop in half again.
now take these quarters and put them into the garlic paste, melted butter, crab butter mixture. try to cover all the pieces but if you cant and some of the crab parts are sticking out, well adjust.... baste it, rotate the pieces, whatever.
put the whole shebang into the 350 oven. loosely cover with some foil. i usually do about 20 minute or so, adjusting for size and number of crabs of course.
for this one crab in a half hotel pan, it was in a 350 oven for 15 minutes
take the pieces out and place them on an oven safe pan.
now the leftover bath... let this cool somewhat and we will get back to this later.
a quick a minute under the broiler is perfect... then TADA
garlic roasted crab, confit method a la euge. of course i would usually add at least some chopped chives/ green onions..... but yes. dig in. scoop out some of the bath solution for dipping if you like.... some lemons... beers..... chard...... grey goose chilled?
*note im going to start adding some pictures of garlic crab dinners with friends, because, good food should always be shared with good people... and my pictures usually suck*
picture courtesy of tiffany m.t.
now the left over bath..... this is awesome. of course you could just get rid of this, but youd be a fool!!!! these days, it seems i make this dish to have this byproduct more than the dish itself!!!
i put the cooled bath solution into a glass tupperware and leave it in the frig. its good for a few months at least.
when i want to make the BEST garlic noodle (yes i said best.... i HATE to use the word best when talking about food because its so subjective but after serving my garlic noodles to a good number of people and them saying its freaking god damn off the hinges, i am starting to believe the garlic noodles arent too shabby), some fried rice, awesome sauteed chinese veggies..... i scoop out a spoonful and TADA!!! more on this next time when ill make a couple of these.
you also probably want to save this butter bath for the next time you make these garlic crab. i usually have one batch i keep for the entire local dungeness crab season, constantly cooking the crab in the bath adding more and more flavor.... im getting hungry now.