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.
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.
Here’s what we ended up with:
- 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,
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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
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