Although our commercial crab season is typically open until June, Dungeness crab is at its peak of flavor and texture when the season first opens sometime in November and continues to be at its peak until about February. It is a winter delight, unlike many other species of crab, several of which are best in the summer months.
Dungeness crab is one of nature’s nearly perfect foods. All it needs is to be cooked — and not for too long — in salted water, chilled, and enjoyed. A spritz of lemon, a drizzle of olive oil, a well-made Louis dressing is all it needs, though there are some more complex preparations that are delicious. But don’t overdo it: Crab should taste like crab.
The mistake many cooks and chefs make is masking crab’s flavor. Blue crab often tastes more like the Old Bay seasoning added to the cooking water than crab itself. And poor crab cakes! They often taste like the ingredients that bind the crab — eggs, mayonnaise, mustard, breadcrumbs — instead of crab.
Recently, I’ve seen several recipes for crab tacos. The concept is appealing but the preparations tend to insult both crab and tacos, with mustard, honey, bell peppers, balsamic vinegar, sour cream, mayonnaise, tomatoes, pickled jalapeños, and even ranch dressing piled into the tortilla. These misguided recipes take a beautifully pristine ingredient and mask it with so many other ingredients that you can barely detect the crab itself.
In the case of Dungeness crab and most other species of crab, less is more, in the best possible way. You want a bit of heat, a bit of acid, and flavors that support rather than eclipse the shellfish.
You can, if you prefer, use either the salsa or the sauce instead of both.
Crab Tacos with Avocado Sauce & Radish Salsa
Makes 3 to 6 servings
— Radish Salsa (recipe follows)
— Avocado Sauce (recipe follows)
— Freshly cooked and picked meat from 1 medium to large Dungeness crab
2 tablespoons lime juice
— Pinch of salt
12 corn tortillas (if handmade style, use just 6)
— Lime wedges
— Radish wedges
Make the radish salsa and avocado sauce and set them aside. (If done the day before, take both out of the refrigerator 30 to 45 minutes before serving).
To finish the tacos, put the crab meat into a bowl, add the lime juice and a pinch of salt, and toss gently.
Heat the tortilla over a gas flame or on a hot grill, turning them frequently until they are very hot and very tender; do not let the become even slightly crisp.
Set 2 tortillas on top of each other (or use just one handmade-style), put crab meat in the center, and top with a spoonful of avocado sauce and of radish salsa. Fold and set on a platter.
Continue, working quickly, until all tacos have been made. Garnish with lime wedges and radish wedges and enjoy right away, with the salsa and sauce alongside. Alternately, make the tacos on individual plates.
Makes about 1 cup