For the first time that I can remember, the Dungeness crab season in the San Francisco Bay Area started this year without much drama – no delay, no fishing boat strikes, no price disputes. That means plentiful, delicious fresh local crabs leading up to the holidays.

Last Friday night, I got my hands on my first Dungeness crab for the season. But I didn’t just eat one crab. I had SIX.

OK, so it wasn’t all for me. But I got the chance to savor these six crabs as part of a foodie dinner at Penang Garden with eight other guests.

Crab Lovers
Our expert organizer, Linda, dines often at this Malaysian restaurant in Chinatown, so she took the lead in organizing a dinner. She had phoned ahead and reserved nine Dungeness crabs, but because we ended up ordering a few other dishes, we only ate six of them, which was more than enough.

On the menu, Penang Garden lists five ways to serve up crab, including hot and spicy, aromatic flavor, tom yum, curry, and ginger and scallion. But Linda convinced the owner to prepare some “off menu” preparations, including one made with salted duck eggs and pumpkin.

This was an unusual "off menu" preparation that's in season when pumpkin is plentiful.

This was an unusual “off menu” preparation that’s in season when pumpkin is plentiful.

Here’s what we ended up with:

  1. Salted duck eggs and pumpkin – the crab is coated in breading that includes minced salted duck eggs and pumpkin pieces, then deep-fried in a dry preparation. The salted duck provides a nice flavor to the crab, although I didn’t detect much of the pumpkin,
  2. Indonesian style – This uses a curry base that’s typical in Indonesian, a red curry that has a slight sweetness to it. This curry base appeared again in other crab dishes that came later.
  3. Tom yum – This is a traditional Malaysian curry style, and this preparation came with chopped vegetables, making it look like a crab stew. The curry base had more of a sweet-and-sour taste.
  4. Aromatic flavor – You would think with a name like “aromatic” that this crab would be fragrant with herbs and stuff, but instead it was made with pungent dry shrimp paste and garlic. This definitely meant the crab was packed with flavor.
  5. Salt and pepper – This is a traditional preparation at many Chinese restaurants, and it’s simply salt and pepper like it says but deep-fried of course to help keep the salt and pepper in tact. This dry preparation was a nice counterpart to all the curry-based preps.
  6. Hot and spicy – Another preparation that had a familiar curry base, and it was supposed to have more kick, but it actually wasn’t as spicy as I had hoped.

We each had a little bit of each crab, mixing the curry or other preparations with the delicate white meat of the fresh crab. I’d never had crabs in so many different ways in one sitting, so it was pure entertainment to dine on crab with this group of food lovers.

And while the crabs would have been more than enough, we also dined on several Malaysian specialties like roti, a crispy thin pancake served up with filling of beef and onions or just eggs, or served up by itself with penang curry for dipping.

Starting off dinner with Malaysian favorite roti, both on its own with curry dipping sauce and filled with beef or eggs.

Starting off dinner with Malaysian favorite roti, both on its own with curry dipping sauce and filled with beef or eggs.

Rounding Off the Meal
We also dined on sizzling tofu (which was delightfully light and airy), pineapple rice (least favorite dish of the night) and greens cooked in shrimp paste, including okra and belachan kang kung. And just for the novelty of it all, we also ordered durian soup. Durian is the Southeast Asian fruit that’s considered a delicacy but is also know for its pungent, cheese-like smell. When cooked right, it creates a slight sweet taste. But when not done right, it’s just plain fowl. (Luckily, the soup was on the sweet side, although I wouldn’t say I would order it often.)

We ended the night with a traditional Malaysian ice treat and coconut pudding (tasted like Hawaiian haupia but more gelatin in texture) that was novel in its coconut container.

So when you’re boiling your Dungeness crab and eating it with melted butter, look over these pictures and realize that you can take your crab-eating experience to another level with any one of these preparations. I’ll never look at Dungeness crab the same way after this feast.

Penang Garden, 728 Washington St. (near Kearny), San Francisco. PH: 415.296.7878. Open daily. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.penanggardensf.com

Laddling up the durian soup.

Laddling up the durian soup.

This crab was made with pungent shrimp paste and garlic for that extra aromatic.

This crab was made with pungent shrimp paste and garlic for that extra aromatic.

This simple curry crab reflected Indonesian flavors and was among my favorite.

This simple curry crab reflected Indonesian flavors and was among my favorite.

We feasted on other dishes to round out the crab dinner, including pineapple rice, steamed buns and sizzling tofu.

We feasted on other dishes to round out the crab dinner, including pineapple rice, steamed buns and sizzling tofu.

This had the familiar curry base but lacked the chili kick as promoted.

This had the familiar curry base but lacked the chili kick as promoted.

Always a favorite preparation in Asian restaurants.

Always a favorite preparation in Asian restaurants.

Belanchan kang kung is a favorite greens made with shrimp paste, a bit like young water greens.

Belanchan kang kung is a favorite greens made with shrimp paste, a bit like young water greens.

Tom yum preparation was the only crab dish that added other ingredients such as chopped vegetables for a sweet-and-sour plate.

Tom yum preparation was the only crab dish that added other ingredients such as chopped vegetables for a sweet-and-sour plate.

Cooling off with Malaysian ice treat.

Cooling off with Malaysian ice treat.

Scooping up coconut pudding from a coconut husk.

Scooping up coconut pudding from a coconut husk.

 

6 Responses to 6 Dungeness Crabs, 9 Diners, 1 Epic Meal

  1. Carolyn Jung says:

    Wow! You really went to town on the Dungeness. Can’t blame you, though. When it’s in season, it’s hard to resist. My favorite seafood!

  2. Oh man, this looks fantastic. Everything looks so comforting too, perfect for this freezing weather!

  3. Sandy says:

    ooh, that looks like a fun meal… most of my crab feasts this year have been at home, which involves way too much slave labor! Looks yummy!

    • Ben Ben says:

      Sandy, yes, it’s always nice to have someone else do all the labor. But one thing I can say that’s good about dining crab at home, you can just devour the crab pieces and make a mess without caring how you look! LOL