Two days after the official opening of Dungeness crab season, I found myself happily squished around a table in my friend’s living room with a dozen other guests, reaching for my umpteenth crab leg from a large silver bowl. Using a metal cracker, I shattered the rust-colored shell to reveal the cream-colored meat, and gently pulled a soft chunk free, drawing it through spicy harissa aioli before bringing it to my lips.
Like many Californians, I know this taste well. Dungeness crab is one of winter’s culinary delights, and after a dismal and brief 2016-2017 season in which toxic levels of domoic acid made the crabs unsafe to eat, the opening of the commercial crab season on Wednesday, Nov. 15 was eagerly anticipated by many. My friend and accomplished home cook Tallula Preston was among them and wasted no time in inviting me and a few other lucky friends over for a crab boil. Fresh crab truly is a cause for celebration, and the communal hands-on cracking and peeling creates a festive atmosphere. If you have the means, I highly recommend gathering your “framily” together to welcome back our West Coast crustacean.
Commercial crab season is open until June 30 next year, but the best crabs are available in winter. Dungeness crab is native and abundant in the area, and the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch rates pot-caught crab a “Good Alternative,” so now is an opportunity to eat plentifully and support local fishermen. H&H Fish Co. in the Santa Cruz Harbor, Reel Good Fish in Moss Landing, Stagnaro Bros. on the Wharf, and Fish Lady in Soquel all purchase crab from local fishermen, as do most of the local markets.
As guests tore into the seasonal treat, an attending East Coaster posed the question of which was better—Atlantic blue crab, lobster or Pacific Dungeness. Most quickly decided there was no contest.
For Preston, as for many other locals, it’s personal: “I love seafood, and to me, crab is our seafood here in the Bay Area and the Central Coast,” she says. “Dungeness crab is one of the best things in the world, and we live in a place where it’s so plentiful. In my family, it’s always been our tradition to eat it around Thanksgiving and Christmas. As much as I love lobster, it’s not my home crustacean.”