cucina bene; mangia bene (Dungeness crab)
It’s crab season here on the Oregon Coast which means Dungeness crab is available now through about mid-August.
The crab fishery is well-managed and most seasons produce abundant catches. People love fresh crab, and for good reason: it’s sweet, healthy, and delicious and easy to prepare. Visitors from all over the world come here to eat crab when its in season. They rent vacation homes, bring their boats, crab pots, crab cookers, and spend weekends enjoying Dungeness crab. The Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce holds an annual Seafood and Wine Festival every year in February that also draws visitors from everywhere. There are all kinds of seafoods represented at the festival (along with plenty of beer and wine), but the official festival mascot is a Dungeness crab. You can see people wearing crab hats, t-shirts, costumes, pins, patches, and even jewelry—all in celebration of this most famous west coast crustacean.
You can buy whole cooked crabs from the local grocery stores and fish markets, you can go down to the docks and buy live crabs from local fishermen to cook at home, or you can fish for crab yourself either off one of the public docks or in a boat. We like it roasted whole with an herb and garlic coating, or simply steam-roasted and dipped in melted butter with lemon and/or Tabasco. Some shellfish tools and lots of napkins are all that’s needed for a real feast!
We also like it picked from the shells and made into crab cakes or crab lasagne (see below for a recipe).
Here’s an elegant crab lasagne recipe for entertaining or treating yourself to something really special (serves 6-8):
1 box no-boil lasagne noodles (I like to use Barilla)
1 lb. picked and cleaned crab meat (whatever is local for you)
1 lb. mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups milk
2 cups cream
Juice and zest of 2 or more lemons
1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese
8 tbs. butter
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup white wine
Salt and Pepper to taste
Preheat the oven at 350 F. Sauté garlic in 2 tbs. butter for 3 minutes; add mushrooms and sauté until browned. Add white wine and simmer until wine has evaporated. Add crab, lemon zest, and parsley, stir all together, remove from heat, and set aside.
Melt remaining 6 tbs. butter in a saucepan and add flour. Cook flour for 5-7 minutes over medium heat or until slightly toasted. Add milk a little at a time while continuously whisking, add cream and lemon juice, and whisk over low heat until thickened. Season with salt and pepper. The sauce should be lemony; if it isn’t add more lemon juice. Add 1 cup of the Parmesan cheese to the sauce and whisk until the cheese has been incorporated. Assemble the lasagne by placing 4 noodles in a 13×9 baking dish across the dish. Add 1/2 of of the crab mushroom mixture, and ladle some sauce over the the crab to cover in a thin layer. Add 4 more noodles across the top, the remaining crab mushroom mixture and a little more sauce. Add 4 more noodles across the top, ladle the remaining sauce over the noodles and make sure they are all covered in the sauce as any noodle that isn’t will be crunchy instead of soft when eaten. Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan cheese over the top and bake the lasagne for 30-45 minutes or until golden on top. Let the lasagne rest for 15 minutes before serving. Enjoy with a mixed greens salad and sourdough bread. Buon Appetito!