This is an exciting time in the San Francisco Bay Area, not because of the holidays or the welcoming drought-relieving rain. It’s because it’s Dungeness crab season in the bay, when crab boats arrive at the pier with their haul of delicious and snapping live crab.
Early reports indicate this is a bountiful season for crab, which means lots of pounding of this shellfish at dinner tables all around the city. Every year I partake, often simply roasting a fresh crab with garlic and butter or stir-frying with ginger and green onions.
This year, I was inspired by all the dining out I’ve been doing lately. So I wanted to create a somewhat sophisticated crab dish one might see at a restaurant. I wanted to highlight the delicate crab meat and not pair it with strong flavors. Just simple, clean flavors. Using seasonal ingredients like persimmons and fennel, I created this light plate of crab with a ponzu-spiked creme fraiche (ponzu is a Japanese citrus vinaigrette that you can buy at Asian grocery stores or Japantown).
One of the downfalls of getting too “cheffy,” however, is that you can sometimes get too complicated with too many ingredients. That’s how I forgot to add one more ingredient to my finished dish — toasted Marcona almonds. But if you can, definitely add the almonds for a smoky touch to the dish. Enjoy!
Steamed Dungeness Crab with Fennel, Persimmons and Ponzu Creme Fraiche
Makes two to three servings
1 whole live Dungeness crab (about 2 lb.), meat removed from shell
1 fuyu persimmon*, cored and thinly sliced
1 fennel, stems removed (retain some fronds for garnish), thinly sliced
3 T creme fraiche
4 T Ponzu (citrus vinaigrette)
4 T extra virgin olive oil
1 t sugar
1/4 cup Marcona almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
Pink finishing salt
pinch of smoked paprika
Bring pot of water to boil and then add steamer basket with the crab. (It makes it easier if you ask your fishmonger to chop your live crab in half if you don’t want to kill it yourself.) Reduce heat to simmer and steam crab for about 15 minutes (roughly 8 minutes per pound). Remove crab from the steamer and place into a colander, rinsing with cold water to cool the crab down so it’ll be easier to handle.
Carefully crack the crab pieces and remove meat, trying to keep as much of the leg parts whole for a better appearance. Set crab meat aside.
In a small bowl or jar, mix 2 tablespoon of ponzu with 2 tablespoon of olive oil and teaspoon of sugar.
Use a mandoline to thinly slice your fennel. In another bowl, combine the fennel and crab meat and drizzle the ponzu oil mixture to coat the ingredients (don’t use all if you don’t need to, just enough to coat everything). Lightly toss with your hand.
In another small bowl, whip the creme fraiche with two tablespoons of ponzu. Set aside. With the mandoline, thinly slice the persimmon. Now you’re ready to plate.
With a spoon, brush one to two tablespoons of the ponzu-creme fraiche mixture across each plate. Sprinkle smoked paprika on top. Then arrange your crab and fennel pieces on the plate, along with slices of persimmons and fennel fronds. (This is your chance to be artsy with the plating. Remember, simple is better.) Finish by sprinkling some Marcona almonds around the plate and finally end with a pinch of pink salt (or any other kind of finishing sea salt).
* Fuyu persimmons are the ones that look like mini pumpkins or apples, and should be eaten when the meat is hard like apples. Hachiya persimmons are the acorn-shaped persimmons that are eaten soft. For this recipe, use the fuyu since you want that slight sweetness and crunch.
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