Alaskan King Crab (AKC)! What can I say? “Loooves it!” Ocean Wise, delicious and a rare treat for people like me. People like me; that’s a “whole big bag of hammers” isn’t it? We recently had an amazing dinner featuring AKC cooked three different ways; we’re currently in the middle of “AKC Season” in Vancouver and many Chinese restaurants and grocery stores are offering AKC as a fantastic price. By the way, I also love semi-colons and their improper usage. Before my daughter get’s too much older, I will have to learn what is right and wrong.
After our amazing AKC meal a few days ago, I started thinking about AKC and I started to get a little confused. I realize I get confused quite often; some say it’s part of my charm, but I started getting “crabbier and crabbier” as I thought more about it. First off, let me tell you about my history and relationship with AKC. As a kid growing up in Toronto, AKC was a “once in a blue moon” treat. For special occasions, my “Parental Units” would buy frozen, cooked king crab legs and serve them with thick T-Bone steaks as part of my favorite meal, “Surf and Turf.” Good meat, good fish, not a vegetable in sight! We also indulged on AKC at the odd fine dining restaurant and occasionally we would gorge ourselves on a cruise ship/resort buffet. Sure, it was good, the luxurious aspect of it, the meaty quality of the crab, “the pure elegance,” but it was nothing, compared to AKC as I know it now.
Let me keep going about AKC’s historical influence in my life. When I started cooking professionally, AKC would cross my path occasionally. A few different times, we got live crabs, poached them whole in a court bouillon, cooled them and saved the meat for amazing cold crab dishes. If I was responsible for preparing the crab, a generous portion of the crab would disappear as I was cleaning it for service. Quality control is a big part of a cook’s job! My favorite preparation would be to use the misunderstood head fat/tamale/roe/brains and make a risotto or scrambled eggs or the most amazing, but ugly crab brain sauce. I love taking the throw away parts and making delicious food out of it. At Tapenade Bistro, this mantra is the cornerstone of our cooking and we use every part of the animal, waste nothing and in my opinion, it takes a skilled cook to make humble and unappreciated cuts tasty. We charged “mucho dinero” for these AKC dishes at the fancy-schmancy joints I used to work at in NYC and I’ve always considered AKC, to be one of the most luxurious ingredients I got to work with. The first time I tasted the crab brain risotto, it was paired with sea urchin roe, golden ossetra caviar and Lanson Champagne; probably one of my top ten food epiphanies of my life. More recently, I would order AKC merus (frozen and cooked), which is the thickest part of the crab’s leg, extremely pricey, but the very best part of the crab. I never get too adventurous with AKC, tend to prepare it very simply and let it speak for itself, dressed lightly with lemon, extra virgin olive oil and fresh herbs. Occasionally, I would add AKC and a lobster tail to the bouillabaisse at Tapenade and we would feature a very extravagant and pricey “Bouillabaisse Royale. ” It’s been a while since I’ve offered it, so maybe I’ll feature this dish again soon.
In 2005, when I was cooking ‘Eye-talian” food, “a lumberjack veg cook” turned me on to the TV show, “The Deadliest Catch.” Since TV is real and everything about life can be learned via watching reality TV, I became an overnight expert on AKC. In fact, if it weren’t for my wife, I would have packed up a bag, flew to Dutch Harbour and looked for a gig as a “greenhorn” on a crab boat. But seriously, this is where my confusion occurs. I like the show and love how these blue-collar guys have become iconic TV characters. According to the show, AKC season takes place in the fall. Most years, the season starts around October and based on basic economics, they catch their quota as quickly as possible and make their way home “toot-sweet” and burn as little fuel as they can. Most AKC fishing is completed by December and at that point, a lot of crab fisherman are already getting reading for the January opening of opilio crab. So here is the big question; why are we feasting on AKC in March here in Vancouver? There’s no way they catch the crab, store them in tanks and keep them alive for months before selling the off? I’m utterly confused and if someone can clarify this for me, it would be greatly appreciated. Though I’m discombobulated by what seems like a AKC timing conflict, I still just want to get out there and eat more AKC.
Last year, 2010, was the first time I experienced the Chinese AKC feast. Not being very Chinese or observant, I missed out on years of this dining experience. I first moved to Vancouver in October 2002 and it took me 7.5 years to experience my first AKC feast in a Chinese restaurant. I broke my AKC feast cherry at Yan’s Garden and it was life changing. AKC cooked 4 ways complimented by, (don’t tell anyone), bottles of Moet and Chandon Champagne, Joie Farm Noble Blend and numerous other BC gews and rieslings. What a fantastic and fun meal that was!
This year, we knew what was coming, so a couple of nights ago, I felt the hankering for AKC, made a reso at Yan’s Garden and “Monk”, “Jazzy,” “Nuoc Mom”, “Godfather,” The Girl and I went to dine on our first AKC feast of the year. I keep mentioning Yan’s Garden [9948 Lougheed Hwy, Burnaby, (604) 421-8823]; it’s a pretty nondescript Chinese restaurant in a strip mall on the border of Coquitlam and Burnaby. It holds a special place in our heart because we held “Jazzy’s” birth banquet there and it’s less than 8.37 minutes from our house. We’ve become good regulars at this humble restaurant and they always provide excellent food and excellent service for us. This time around, we had a 10 pound beauty, cooked 3 different ways; steamed with garlic, knuckles fried with spicy pepper salt and a fried rice, baked with all the crab brains in the crab’s shell. We also gilded the lily with a platter of fried Fraser Valley squab, a dish of sautéed pea tendrils, wok-roasted yee-mein and finally a baked coconut tapioca pudding. The first course was so delicate; the taste of steamed fresh AKC with garlic is amazingly pure and now one of my favorite things to eat. It’s so sweet, succulent and ethereal; it just tastes like the sea and makes me smile. The taste, the aroma, the texture! Yowza!!! In fact, the broth left over in the platters were reserved and spooned over a noodle dish later in the meal. The fried knuckles were amazing as well and a great contrast to the first course. The fried rice was good, but would not compare in any way to the caliber of the other two dishes. Squab, very good, pea shoots same. Noodles, OK on their own, but amazing with the leftover crab broth. The dessert is one of our favorites and we always pre-order it when we eat dinner there. Tasty. Overall, an unbelievable dinner and I think we’re going to have to eat some more crab this month.
Well, thanks for reading, I just felt like rambling about AKC. Listen, I need some answers, so if you can figure it out, let me know. BTW, I’m ordering some AKC to feature next week at Tapenade Bistro. Peace be on to you and go eat some crab.