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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.

Radish Salsa

Makes about 1 cup

8-10 small radish leaves, cut into very thin slices

8 medium radishes, trimmed and cut into small dice

1 tablespoon minced red onion

1 small serrano, seeded and minced

1 small garlic clove, minced

— Zest of 1 lime

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

— Kosher salt

— Black pepper in a mill

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Set the radish leaves aside briefly.

Put the radishes, red onion, serrano, and garlic into a medium bowl and toss gently. Add the lime zest, cilantro leaves, and radish leaves and toss again. Season with salt and pepper and stir in the lime juice and olive oil.

Let rest 10 to 15 minutes, taste, and correct for salt, pepper, and acid. Cover and set aside until ready to use. This salsa will keep, covered and refrigerated, for 2 to 3 days.

Avocado Sauce

Makes about 1 cup

1 large ripe avocado, pitted and coarsely chopped

1 serrano, chopped

— Juice of 1 lime

— Kosher salt

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Put the avocado, serrano, and lime juice into the work bowl of a blender or food processor and season with salt. Add 1/4 cup water and pulse several times until very smooth.

Taste, correct for salt and acid, pulse again as needed, and transfer to a small bowl. Stir in the cilantro, cover, and set aside until ready to use. This sauce will keep, covered and refrigerated, for 2 to 3 days.

Part of the pleasure of this simple dish is its contrast in temperature, with the hot pasta and cool crab, which means timing of the recipe is crucial. Have everything ready when the pasta is done and it will turn out beautifully.

Crab Salad Pasta with Radish Vinaigrette

Makes 3 to 4 servings

— Radish Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

— Kosher salt

8-10 ounces dried spaghettini (thin spaghetti)

— Freshly cooked and picked meat from 2 small or 1 large Dungeness crab

— Lemon wedges

Make the vinaigrette and set it aside.

Fill a large saucepan half full with water, season generously with salt, and bring to a boil over high heat. When the water reaches a rolling boil, add the pasta and stir gently until the water returns to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook according to package directions until the pasta is just tender. Drain but do not rinse.

Divide the pasta among individual pasta bowls and drizzle about a tablespoon of vinaigrette over each portion. Toss gently.

Divide the crab among the portions and spoon the vinaigrette over it. Garnish with lemon wedges and enjoy right away.


Omit the pasta and serve as a salad.

Omit the pasta. Spoon the crab, followed by the vinaigrette, over toasted sourdough hearth bread.

Radish Vinaigrette

Makes about 3/4 cup

1 small shallot, minced

3 medium radishes, cut into very small dice

— Kosher salt

2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar

2 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon freshly snipped chives

— Black pepper in a mill

6 tablespoons best-quality extra virgin olive oil

Put the shallot and radishes into a small bowl, season with salt, and pour in the vinegar. Set aside for 20 to 30 minutes.

Add the lemon juice, chives, and several turns of black pepper. Stir in the olive oil, taste, and correct for salt and acid. Cover and set aside until ready to use.

This voluptuous dish violates my “less is more” rule, but rules are made to be broken now and then, right? If you’re looking for a special dish to enjoy on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, this might be it. Be sure to have a well-chilled sparkling wine to enjoy alongside. I recommend serving a simple green salad following the main course. If you’d like a side dish to go with the mac-and-cheese, wilted spinach with garlic and lemon is perfect.

Macaroni and Cheese with Dungeness Crab

Makes 3 to 4 servings

2-3 tablespoons butter, chilled

2 teaspoons Coleman’s dry mustard

1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce

1½ cups heavy cream

2 eggs, beaten

8 ounces (2 cups) Gruyere cheese, grated

8 ounces (2 cups) mild Cheddar, grated

8 ounces (2 cups) Monterey Jack, grated

12 ounces ditalini, cooked al dente, drained, and rinsed

— Black pepper in a mill

— Kosher salt

— Freshly cooked and picked meat of 1 medium Dungeness crab

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a large baking dish or individual ramekins.

In a large bowl, whisk together the mustard and Tabasco sauce until smooth. Add the cream and the eggs, mix thoroughly, and stir in the cheese. Fold in the pasta, add the remaining cheese and season generously black pepper. Season to taste with salt and season with salt and pepper.

Gently fold in the crab meat, distributing it evenly but not breaking it up too much; you want large chunks.

Tip the mixture into the dish or ramekins and spread the bread crumbs over the top. Season lightly with salt and pepper and top with the remaining butter, cut into small pieces.

Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the aluminum foil and bake until the bread crumbs are golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes more. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author or 24 books to date, including “Vinaigrettes & Other Dressings.” Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com.

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