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How to make the most of Dungeness crab season on the Sonoma Coast

Indulge in our beloved Dungeness now with these recipes.|

Shawn Patterson, who fishes wild Pacific king salmon during its local season, has established Lisa Lu Fishery LLC and formed a partnership with Adam King. They recently acquired the crab boat Susan E from a Bodega Bay fisherman.

Lisa Lu Fishery is selling live crab for $10 a pound directly to consumers and $8 a pound to restaurants. Most crab are coming in between about 1½ and 2 pounds, with some a bit bigger. Prices are higher than they often are, but that’s the case with almost everything during the pandemic.

The quality of these Dungeness is outstanding.

“We offload everything into chilled, aerated water and then maintain the crabs in insulated totes to keep them alive and pristine, until they are picked up and taken to their forever homes,” Patterson wrote recently in a message announcing the availability of Dungeness for the foreseeable future. To order, call Patterson at 707-294-9937. Pick up in south Sebastopol (you’ll get the address when you call).

He expects to stay in the water until the state closes the season, after the bigger boats have pulled their pots and concluded their season.

“We expect to have plenty for direct-to-consumer sales and farmers market sales,” he added.

Though there should be an uptick in the catch sometime in late February or early March, when the mating season has concluded, there is still time to indulge in our beloved Dungeness now.

This recipe originated with Chef Ray Tang, whose former restaurant Mariposa in Windsor delighted all us during its run. Tang is now at the helm of the Presidio Social Club Exchange in San Francisco and has been for years. We worked on this dish together more than 10 years ago. When you pick the crab for these fritters, try to get the legs out of their shells in one piece. Not only do the fritters have a more succulent taste and texture when the legs are whole, it also makes for a dramatic presentation, with batter-coated legs poking out from among the julienned vegetables.

Crispy Crab Fritters

Makes 16 fritters

Kosher salt

3 to 4 parsnips or carrots, peeled and cut into thin 3-inch julienne

2 cups julienned butternut squash

Crushed ice

1 cup rice flour

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon curry powder

2 teaspoons kosher salt

Black pepper in a mill

12-ounce bottle club soda

Corn oil

½ cup Italian parsley leaves

16 large, freshly picked Dungeness crab legs

1 bunch Italian parsley

Lemon wedges

Sriracha or other hot sauce

Fill a medium saucepan half full with water, add a generous tablespoon of salt and bring to a boil over high heat.

While waiting for the water to boil, prepare the two vegetables (parsnips or carrots and squash). When the water reaches a rolling boil, drop in the vegetables and cook for 90 seconds. Drain, put in a medium bowl and cover with crushed ice.

Next, make the batter. Fill a large bowl half full with crushed ice and set it aside. Put the rice flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, curry powder, 2 teaspoons of salt and several turns of black pepper in a medium bowl. Whisk in the club soda. The batter should have the consistency of thin pancake batter; if it seems too thick, add water, ¼ cup at a time.

Set the bowl of batter on top of the ice.

Pour 3 to 4 inches of corn oil into a heavy, deep pot and heat it to 360 degrees, using an instant-read thermometer to determine the temperature.

Drain the vegetables again, tip them onto a clean tea towel and pat dry. Transfer them to a dry bowl, add the parsley and toss together.

Set absorbent paper next to the stove. Spread the bunch of parsley over a platter and set it nearby.

To make the fritters, pick up a small handful of vegetables, add a crab leg and, holding it fairly tightly, turn it in the batter to coat it completely. Lift up your hand, gently shake off excess batter and drop into the hot oil. Repeat, cooking 3 to 4 fritters at a time. Do not overcrowd them. Make sure the oil returns to the correct temperature after each addition. Fry the fritters, turning once, for about 60 to 90 seconds, until they are golden brown. Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to the absorbent paper.

When all the fritters have been cooked and drained, transfer them to the platter with the parsley. Garnish with lemon wedges and enjoy hot, with a spritz of lemon and a spritz of hot sauce.

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This is a very quick soup to make, once you have the shellfish stock and the picked crab.

Dungeness Crab and Sourdough Bread Soup

Makes 3-4 servings

¼ - ⅓ loaf of sourdough hearth bread

1 large Dungeness crab, cooked

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

4 - 5 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced

1 bay leaf

¾ teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika

1 tablespoon double-concentrated tomato paste

Kosher salt

Black pepper in a mill

¾ cup dry white wine

2 ½ cups shellfish stock, see Note below

1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves

1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro leaves, optional

Tear the bread into bite-size pieces, but not too small. One piece should fit in a standard soup spoon. You should have about 1½ cups. Put the bread on a platter or sheet pan in a single layer, so it can dry out a bit while you cook. Set it aside.

Pick the meat from the body, legs and claws of the crab and set it aside.

Pour the olive oil into a medium saucepan, set it over medium-low heat, add the garlic and simmer gently for about 2 minutes, until the garlic is sizzling and just beginning to pick up a bit of color. Add the bay leaf, pepper flakes, paprika and tomato paste; season with salt and pepper and stir in the wine and stock.

Simmer gently for 5 minutes. Cover and let rest for 15 minutes.

Use tongs to remove and discard the bay leaf.

Stir in the parsley, cilantro (if using) and bread. Cover and let rest 5 minutes.

If the soup has cooled too much, return it to a medium flame and heat through.

Taste, correct for salt and pepper, ladle into soup plates and enjoy right away.

Note: To make shellfish stock, you first must make fish fumet. In a pinch, you can use clam juice instead of fumet; it’s available in most supermarkets.

To make the stock, pour 3 tablespoons of olive oil into a large saucepan set over medium heat, add shrimp shells and/or Dungeness crab shells and saute for 5 minutes, stirring and turning frequently. Add 3 cups of fish fumet or clam juice, bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, strain into a clean container and use right away or store in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 2 days.

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This sauce is from one of the best places to enjoy Dungeness crab in San Francisco: Swan Oyster Depot (1517 Polk St.). Your server likely will mix up this sauce right in front of you. It’s admittedly a messy meal, but it’s one of the finest ways to savor our signature shellfish.

Cracked Dungeness Crab, San Francisco-Style

Makes 2-4 servings

¾ cup mayonnaise

3 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon prepared horseradish

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce

Kosher salt, if needed

1 lemon, cut in wedges

Prepared cocktail sauce, optional

2 Dungeness crabs, cooked, cleaned and chilled

In a small bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, mustard, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco, stirring until smooth. Taste and correct for salt, if needed.

Set the crab on a large platter or divide it among individual plates. Garnish with lemon wedges.

Set the crab on the table, along with the sauce. If using the cocktail sauce, pour some into a bowl and set it next to the other sauce. Set a few nutcrackers or similar tools on the table for cracking the legs. Use the tip of the crab’s claws to gently dig out meat, as necessary.

Dip morsels of crab meat in the sauce, squeeze a little lemon over it and enjoy.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date, including “San Francisco Seafood.” Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com.

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