Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Snacking State-by-State: Washington I - A recipe featuring ANOTHER crab...

For my final foray into the Pacific Northwest, I tackle the Evergreen State. I've been to Washington but once, during a conference in Seattle long ago. Hopefully I can get back at some point in the not-too-distant future. But of course, Washington is more than just Seattle, and food wise it has much to offer inland and on the coasts.

Official Name: State of Washington
State Nickname: The Evergreen State
Admission to the US: November 11, 1889 (#42)
Capital: Olympia (21st largest)
Other Important Cities: Seattle (largest), Spokane (2nd largest), Tacoma (3rd largest) 
Region: Northwest, Pacific, Pacific Rim; Pacific (US Census)
RAFT NationsSalmon
Bordered by: Pacific Ocean (west), Oregon (south), Idaho (east), British Columbia (Canada) (north)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: apple (fruit); bluebunch wheatgrass (grass); steelhead trout (fish); Walla Walla sweet onion (vegetable)
Some Famous and Typical Foods: Pacific coast seafood, including but not limited to: Dungeness crab, salmon, trout, scallops of many varieties, Geoduck clam, mussels, oysters, halibut, cod; blackberries, apples, huckleberries, cranberries, cherries; hazelnuts; coffee

What does Washington have to offer, food wise? A few of its key exports and notable foods include:
  • Dungeness crab – yes, that other famous crab that those of us from the Chesapeake Bay stare at and go “Damn, that’s a big crab!” Far be it from me to get into an argument with a Washingtonian on which is better. I've eaten quite a good bit of both. I love Dungeness crab, but strongly prefer the blue crab. Then again, had I been born and raised off Puget Sound instead of the Chesapeake Bay, I’d probably be singing a different tune.
  • Salmon – the Pacific Northwest is indeed salmon country, eaten here for millennia. The Northwestern stuff is some of the best salmon in the country.
  • Scallops – specifically the “singing scallop”, which Seattle-based chef Tom Douglas says were so named because “divers say they whistle through their shells when they are disturbed (and of course, the name became a good marketing tool) [Douglas 2001:68].
  • Geoduck clams – This is pronounced like “Gooey duck”. The massive, intimidating clam is not available year round, but you can actually find it here on the East Coast when it is in season. You have to go to H Mart (I haven’t checked the prices but I don’t think they’re all that cheap).  I bet when in season you can find it at the Maine Avenue Fish Market, in the other Washington, the District of Columbia.
  • Apples – Apples are one of Washington’s major industries, with the Evergreen State producing over 100 million apples every year.  They are Washington's largest agricultural product [Washington Apple Commission 2010]. You can even find Washington apples in the Mid-Atlantic.
  • Coffee – Seattle is the home of one of this nation’s best-known evil empires. Mind you, Starbucks with its huge, Borg-like tentacles is only the most famous brand of coffee to come out of Seattle. It isn’t the only one.
That first one, the Dungeness crab, is known up and down the Western Seaboard. When I lived in California it was quite easy to find a Dungeness crab for about $10 (that’s $5 a pound). Pre-cooked, I would bring it home, pick it, and swirl the meat around in butter, beer and Old Bay. Someday I may have to truck on down to H Mart and buy a live one to steam Maryland-style. For now, I will have to use the pre-cooked ones, which are much, much pricier in Baltimore than in Seattle or even SoCal’s Inland Empire.

Faced with the challenge of finding an interesting way to prepare Dungeness crab, I turned to Tom Douglas, who like so many readers of this blog comes not from Washington but from the Chesapeake Bay region (Delaware, to be exact). In his Tom Douglas’ Seattle Kitchen [2001], the chef and owner of several Seattle-area restaurants talks up the many ways to prepare these massive beauties.
The Northwest tradition is to boil the crabs briefly in salted water. The crabs are served hot, or more likely chilled, with melted butter and lemon or mayonnaise. One crab per person is the norm in our house. My daughter Loretta’s favorite treat is to have the crabs wok-seared on a very not burner with ginger, Chinese black beans, and garlic. By the time we’re done, we’re covered from chin to elbows with crab shells and sticky sauce. {Douglas 2001:77]
It didn't dawn on me but the recipe I chose ended up being the aforementioned favorite in the Douglas household, a Japanese-inspired Dungeness crab wok-seared in ginger, garlic and fermented black beans. It’s not as simple as it sounds, mind you, but it’s definitely different for this Chesapeake dweller – though not the former Chesapeake dweller who came up with it.

Said recipe can be found on pages 90 and 91 of Tom Douglas’ Seattle Kitchen

The Recipe: Wok-Fried Dungeness Crab with Ginger and Lemongrass

For this Dungeness crab preparation you will need: 

* Dungeness crab (a two-pounder cost me $20 at the Maine Avenue Fish Market in DC, twice as much as I might have spent in a West Coast supermarket.  Note, however, it was well worth waiting to buy it there - it was thawed, and they will indeed steam it for you (with or without Old Bay - your choice).  You don't have that option when you buy it frozen at Wegman's for about $40 a crab.  Also note: H Mart does sell live Dungeness crab.  I have no idea what it costs.)
* ginger (a nob was about $6 per lb, or about 75 cents for the piece I broke off)
* garlic (had it)
* lemongrass (did not have it; cost $2 for a bundle at H Mart, less than what you'd get at Wegman's or Harris Teeter.  Can you find this stuff at Giant yet?)
* lime (about 50 cents)
* poblano chile (same)
* shallot (and same)
* chicken stock (or in this case, the Better Than Bouillon I had in my fridge)
* rice wine vinegar (I keep forgetting that I have rice wine in my pantry, not rice vinegar!  Whatever; it worked fine.)
* soy sauce (had lots of it)
* chili garlic sauce (easier to find than I thought it would be; about $4 at H Mart)
* fermented Chinese black beans (all I could find at H Mart was this in paste form, again about $4)
* sake (had a nice big bottle of Haiku brand in my kitchen)
* vegetable (here, peanut) oil (had it)
* sugar (had it too)
* cornstarch dissolved in water (a necessity for making nice thick sauces in the wok)

You should also have a wok.

Start by mincing your plants - the chile, the ginger, the shallot, the lemongrass (tender white part only) and the garlic (this I grated).

Next, heat a little oil in your wok.

Stir fry the veggie products quickly.

And add your other ingredients, minus the crab.

Now disassemble that crab.  For those of us from the Chesapeake (and those other areas where crab picking is not uncommon), this is rather easy - it's just like picking a blue crab.  A very, very big blue crab.  For everybody else, start by removing the apron.

Next, remove the carapace (which you will keep).

Rip off the gills (which you will not keep).

Break the body of the crab in half.

Finally, separate the legs from the rest of the body.

Throw the entire thing, sans apron or gills (but including the carapace) into the wok, and mix.

Cover and steam for a few minutes.

Uncover and steam some more. For presentation's sake, reassemble the crab the best you can, carapace on top.

What an innovative (to me, anyway) way to prepare a crab.  The crab is messy, I will give Tom Douglas that, and sweet and sour and tangy and a bit spicy all at once.  It was difficult putting it away for later.  I just could not help but crack into one more of those crab legs.  Now this begs the next question: I wonder how this would work with blue crabs?


Douglas, Tom.  Tom Douglas' Seattle Kitchen.  William Morrow: New York, 2001.

"kiwisoutback" ( user).  "How to Make a Starbucks Iced Latte."  In "Starbucks Coffee Drink Recipes", Copyright 2008,  All rights reserved.

Washington Apple Commission.  "Crop facts."  Copyright 2010 Washington Apple Commission.  All rights reserved.

Washington Apple Commission.  "Golden Apples and Yams."  Copyright 2010 Washington Apple Commission.  All rights reserved.  "History of Starbucks."  Date unknown.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Washington" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Washington".