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Ode to Melanie Wong

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  • Kit H. Jan 6, 2001 08:16 PM
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Well, not exactly an ode..but many thanks for wetting my appetite for dungeness crabs. I munched through more than half of one this evening. I had forgotten how succulent and sweet the meat is. But the price!!..mon dieu..$10./lb.!! I remember when I ate them quite often and they were $.59/lb. Ah-h-h..those were the days...

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  1. Whoa...where are you going that you're paying $10/lb? You can get live dungeness crabs at 99 Ranch markets for $3.99/lb (toss them in boiling water with some ginger and scallions and dip them in ginger/rice wine vinegar) and at most Cantonese seafood restaurants in Roland Heights for $7-$8/lb (my current favorite is Guangzhou Palace on Nogales between Colima and the 60 Freeway).

    Fred

    22 Replies
    1. re: Fred

      And the steamed Dungeness crab with fresh minced garlic and handmade flat noodles at Empress Pavilion should not be overlooked. It is a dish that makes you glad to be alive.

      1. re: Pepper
        m
        Melanie Wong

        How's the roast crab at Crustacean in Beverly Hills, sibling of Thanh Long in SF?

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          It actually quite disappointing. Garlic flavor isn't really there. I'm not really sure what the fuss about Crustacean is. The entire meal I had there was pedestrian at best. Sure, they have the whole aquarium on your path, and the whole super top secret kitchen. But the food, even the highly tauted dishes, the roasted crab and the garlic noodles that "you MUST try", was pretty bland.

          If you must try it, don't forget to specify whether you want it cracked or not cracked at the kitchen. Otherwise they will do it for you and tack on another $5-$7 to the already high price ($37??). IMHO, breaking open and eating an uncracked crab is half the fun. Well, one-forth anyway.

          The best crab dish that I've found is in Jumbo NYC in Alhambra, it's pronounced bei-fong-tong-hai in Chinese. I'm sorry I don't know the English name. It is a chopped up crab (although not cracked), loaded up with minced garlic, chilies, scallions, and pork soong.

          Panoz

          1. re: Panoz

            Speaking of Vietnamese..there is a really good place in Rolling Hills Estates right near the library. It's called Bamboo Plaza and has a very, very plain interior but great pho and spring rolls. One young man I know, who lived with a family in Vietnam for a year, tried the restaurant and thought the food was very good and very authentic.

            1. re: Panoz
              m
              Melanie Wong

              Jeez, what a rip! I can't believe they charge you to crack it in the kitchen, e.g., whack it with a hammer a few times.

              I'm not quite getting the transliteration (other than "hai" for crab), but Jumbo's dish sounds wonderful!

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                People use hammers? People have it easy these days. When I was growing up, my mom and aunties used to rip the crabs apart with their bare hands and then use cleavers to crack them before stir-frying them.

                1. re: raytamsgv

                  I have never been able to make myself do that. I've had many people ask me why the crab they try to stir-fry at home doesn't compare to restaurants. And this is exactly why. Squeamish home cooks par-boil the crabs or start with a dead one. The texture and taste can't compare to stir-frying a newly killed, almost still moving crab the way your family (and restaurants) do.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    As much as my kids hate it, I don't have a problem with steaming them live, but ripping them apart alive is not something I'd choose.

                    Still, I'd like to steam them as briefly as possible, then finish them as one of those Singapore-Style Chili Crab recipes.

                    1. re: Shrinkrap

                      A couple years ago I attended a crab feed in SF and was surprised that the hosts were cooking just the body and claw parts. Since I love the crab fat, I wanted to know what happened to the carapace shell. They said that they bought the crabs at Sun Fat in the Mission. Apparently there's one Chinese fishmonger there who will tear them apart for you (after weighing), and they just took home the body and claws. But only this one guy and they had to schedule the party for the day he'd be working.

            2. re: Melanie Wong

              I tried Crustacean in Beverly Hills and was terrible disappointed. The decor is gorgeous but it's advertised as serving Vietnamese food and the dishes we had were definitely not Vietnamese.

              1. re: Kit H.
                m
                Melanie Wong

                The verdict seems to be unanimous.

                I haven't been to Crustacean in SF. Have heard that the family has stripped the "soul" from the original Thanh Long and Crustacean is tarted up from there. It's funny, I tried Thanh Long 15 years ago - thought the crab was great but wouldn't go back because the place was filthy (walls covered with grease). Now I probably won't be back because it's too clean.

              2. re: Melanie Wong

                I sort of actively hate Crustacean, which has horrible food, an obnoxious clientele and unconscionable prices. I once surmised that ``Crustacean'' must be idiomatic Vietnamese for ``Red Lobster.''

                1. re: Pepper
                  m
                  Melanie Wong

                  Please tell us how you REALLY feel, Pep!

            3. re: Fred
              m
              Melanie Wong

              Instead of boiling, you might try steaming the crabs. I like to cook my own because I want the crab fat under the carapace and it must be freshly cooked. If you boil them, most of the fat runs out into the boiling liquid. The flavor is much more intense, the meat is less water-logged and needs no added salt when steamed. But I will caution you that the aroma when you take the lid off is incredibly overpowering because all the crab juices are concentrated into such a small amount of liquid.

              Only an inch of water is needed in the bottom of the pan, takes less time to heat up. Once it’s boiling, lay the live crab in the pot dorsal side down (to catch the fat in the carapace). Hold it from the posterior end and the claws can’t reach you. Depending on size, cooking time is 12 to 17 mins. The legs will be ready in 12 mins., and sometimes I’ll pull those off to start cracking while the rest of the crab finishes cooking.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                Thanks, Melanie, for the cooking directions. Next time I must find live crabs. I have a Chinese 2-part steamer (metal) which should work??

                1. re: Kit H.
                  m
                  Melanie Wong

                  Using a steamer would be great, then the water absolutely won't get inside the body.

                  P.S. can't believe I'm posting on yet another board . . .

                2. re: Melanie Wong

                  I know I'm bumping a 14 year old post, but I don't follow the instructions. It seems to say "hold" the crab in live steam for 12 to 17 minutes, which seems to mean flaying your hands. And, how do you tell whether your crab is 12 minutes or 17 minutes?

                  1. re: bbulkow

                    you grab it from the rear w/ tongs, and place it in the pot -- i put them in upside down. cover the pot. then leave it to cook.

                    1. re: escargot3

                      Can you BUMP on chowhound?

                      1. re: Shrinkrap

                        Yeah, that's what bbulkow did.

                        1. re: c oliver

                          Can't we just sticky the steaming method? I end up looking for it every yer.

                      2. re: escargot3

                        Thanks, yes, "grab" would be the operative verb. Over these many years when I've had guests over for a crab feed and taught them how to cook and clean their own, teaching them how to pick up a live crab has been equally important. No need to be afraid of the creature. I use my bare hands rather than tongs, but nothing wrong with tongs. So, when the crab is standing upright, I grab it from behind with my four fingers on top of the shell and my thumb underneath, then turn the crab over, slide it into the pot and put the lid on.

                3. m
                  Melanie Wong

                  Goodness! I hope that $10 was for a whole crab and not really per pound. Just before Christmas I had to pay $6 but the price has settled down again to $4/lb. for live ones at the fish markets. This is supposedly a light season but all the ones I've bought have been over 2 lbs. and some over 2.5 lbs. and filled with crab butter.

                  Whenever I travel, I try the local crabs and nothing has replaced our Dungeness in my heart for succulence, texture, complexity and sweetness. Plus they're so much easier to eat with fewer misplaced shell shards because of the larger size.

                  A friend in WA state e-mailed recently that he might prefer Shanghai hairy crabs to Dungeness . . . I'll have a word with the boy . . . A possible reason is he's comparing them to Washington Dungeness which are not as sweet as from our San Francisco fishery.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    Yes, Melanie, it was a whole 2 lb. cooked crab. I expect to pay a little more for it because it was cooked..but $$$??? I bought it at Bristol Farms because Ranch 99 Market is not close by and I had an instant yearning.

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      I was recently back in California and tried a newer (for me) variety of crab. It's white in color with some areas of light orange pigment, has longer legs than the dungeness, and is a little larger too. I found the flesh to be just as sweet as the dungeness but it was also more delicate in texture. In addition, there was more meat in the legs which made eating a lot easier. I wouldn't say it's better than the dungeness, but I would say it's just as good.

                      Fred

                      1. re: Fred
                        m
                        Melanie Wong

                        Would that be Australian snow crab?

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          To answer my own question from almost 13 years ago it was crystal crab.

                    2. Speaking of dungeness crabs bought live:

                      Does anyone know a place in Long Beach called something like Pier 57 Seafood, or something like that? I used to go there in 1988-90 to buy fresh live dungeness crabs, and for fresh squid. I'm probably remembering the pier number wrong.

                      It was a weird place that had some really great stuff, and some not-so-great stuff. It did a lot of business with local restaurants. It was located right on a dock in a kind of rundown area right off the 710 freway, and had big seawater tanks filled with dungeness crabs, as well as other types of live crabs and fish.

                      I can't find it in the phone listings now. I'm hoping somebody here knows something, or else I'm going to just head down and drive around for a while and see if I can find it again.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Cheryl H

                        You're probably looking for San Pedro Fish Market, Berth 78, in the Fisherman's Wharf in San Pedro. Pick the crabs out of the water yourself with tongs, slip 'em in a bag, pay the store a buck to have 'em steamed, eat 'em at a picnic table overlooking the harbor. A very pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

                        Cold beer, mariachi music, Mexican shrimp--what more is there?

                        1. re: Pepper

                          Thanks, Pepper. That information has turned out to be quite useful.

                          I finally got in my car and drove down to the place in Long Beach that I remembered. I had been looking for "Pier 5-something," but when I got down to the general area and finally spotted it, I saw it's actually named "Berth 55." It's off the 710 freeway south of Willow, just after the freeway splits, with one half going to downtown Long Beach, and half going to the Queen Mary and the docks and such.

                          Berth 55 had changed some since I'd last been there. It's a fish market with a fishing charter service run out of the same building. When I arrived at about 5:30 p.m., there were a lot of tired guys packing up from a day out on the water.

                          It still had fresh fish, smoked fish and salt-water tanks holding crabs and lobsters. However, it didn't have dungeness crabs, just what the counterman called "Monterey crabs." Dungeness crabs were listed on the menu under "seasonal," but when I asked when they'd have them, the counterman said that they never have them anymore.

                          Gone was a feature I remembered: A big pile of ice in a low metal bin on which rested many types of fresh whole fish and what seemed like a couple hundred squid.

                          I had forgotten that Berth 55 is also a very informal restaurant. You can order fried seafood or crabs or lobsters steamed live, along with chowder and fries and such. There were quite a few people eating when I was there. It's right on the water, and you can sit at picnic tables looking over the boats as they come in. It isn't, however, exactly what one would call scenic. It's a more down-and-dirty, industrial side of the harbor.

                          But it was dungeness crabs I was after, so my next trip down the 710 or 110 will be aimed at San Pedro. Unless somebody can name a good source for a live crab that they'll steam for you that is closer to Pasadena.

                          1. re: Pepper

                            Ah, Pepper. Always providing spot on recommendations.

                            Wonder were you went...

                        2. It's almost time!!!!!