Sunday, February 4, 2007

Dungeness Crab: Worth Its Weight In Gold Plus a Recipe for Golden Balsamic Vinaigrette

A quick Internet search for current prices of mail order Dungeness crab (for those who don't live on the west coast of the United States between San Francisco and Alaska), found that one company sells it for $14.95 per pound, another offers a cooked whole 1.5 to 2-pound crab for $37.99, and Gorton's offers a 2 to 2.5-pound whole cook crab for $39.99. All of these do not include the shipping costs.

You do the math. Anyway you pencil it out, it's darned expensive.

Here in the tiny fishing port village of Trinidad, California, we can buy crab from some local fishermen at the beginning of the season (this year it started just before Christmas) for $5.00 each. That's right, you read correctly: $5.00 each.

At an average weight of 2 pounds per crab, that's $2.50 per pound. (You can't see me but I'm doing a smug little Snoopy dance right now.)

Of course you have to know who to call and when to call, and you have to be on time to pick up your order or the crabs just might be gone when you get there. All part of the fun, excitement and tension of waiting for the season to begin and the crabs to come in.

We had our fill of crab over the holidays, mostly freshly cooked, cracked and slurped down with a glass of champagne. Sometimes in salads like the one pictured here. Dressed with a golden balsamic (recipe below) or champagne vinaigrette, you can't go wrong.

Sated for the time being, it was January before I remembered I wanted to have some crab meat put away in the freezer so I could make crab cakes whenever I wanted to.

And that brings me to the reason for this post: from six large crabs in their shells to 1-pound packages of lovely lump meat, I'd like to show you the process and the yield. If you like crab like I do, I think you'll agree they're worth their weight in gold.

Six crabs, cooked whole with shell intact, weighed a total of 10 pounds. That's an average of 1.67 pounds per crab. Some were lighter, some were heavier. After removing the backs of the shells and cleaning the bodies, the crabs weighed in at 8 pounds total. I don't have photos of the "backing" and cleaning process. It takes both hands and it's not a very pretty sight.

Shelling crabs is time consuming. It took me a little over two hours to pick six crabs.

After all the picking was done I had a total of 3 pounds, 10 ounces of crab meat. I bagged three 1-pound packages to put in the freezer and kept the remaining 10 ounces to use right away in crab salad.

From start to finish it took me about 3 1/2 hours to clean, pick and bag six crabs. For each package I used two zip-lock freezer bags, double bagging and forcing out as much air as possible. Then I put them all together in another freezer bag for good measure. After all that work, you don't want freezer burned crab meat.

What will I get for my labors? I figure each pound of crab meat will yield about 16 dinner-size crab cakes.
Recipe coming...

For now, here's my golden balsamic vinaigrette recipe:
Golden Balsamic Salad Dressing
Christine's original recipe
Makes 1 cup
1 heaping tablespoon dijon mustard (I use Maille)
1/4 teaspoon sugar or Splenda granular
pinch kosher salt
several grinds black pepper
3 ounces extra-virgin olive oil
In a measuring cup, pour in the vinegar, mustard, sugar, salt and pepper. Whisk until combined.
Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in the walnut oil then the olive oil.
Keep whisking until the mixture has thickened and is fully emulsified.
Taste and adjust seasonings.


  1. Oh my gawd-this is the ultimate dinner!How lucky can you be to have this available at such a price! I am so jealous! When we lived in Seattle, we used to take our tupperware boat out for the day and go crabbing-sometimes we really made a haul, like you have in the photos. We would get so much, I had to give it away to the neighbors.Oh to have just one crab tonight!!

  2. That is such a steal! I'm jealous.

  3. I'm jealous, too, also of the photography.

    Christine, come over to my kitchen and see what you are responsible for!

  4. Christine, you are so cool! Thanks for all the pics. I admit, seafood is not my forte and I've never been up to doing the whole crab thing yet. When I do, I'll be calling you for advice!

  5. What great photos and the crab looks wonderful. I live not far from Dungeness in Kent, I wonder if that is where the crab gets it's name from or do you have another Dungeness near you Christine?

  6. Jann,
    At least you've had the experience. So many "landlubbers" have never tasted Dungeness right out of the ocean. :)

    Isn't it incredible?

    Thank you (and Kristen) for the compliments. These photos did turn out rather well.
    I went to your kitchen and am blushing. Who knew so many pears would start tumbling out of the basket? I've got a recipe from my friend Erika that I've got to try. Post coming soon.

    Thanks Glenna. You let me know when you're ready!

    I had to Google it, and came up with this quote from one web site: "While the 'Dungeness' name is derived from a fishing port on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, its Latin name loosely translates as 'chief' or 'principal' crab.
    And this on another: The origin of the present site of Dungeness (Washington) was an English harbor of the same name. However, the present town was preceded by New Dungeness, a site visited by an English sea captain in 1792 named George Vancouver. He named the location New Dungeness as it reminded him so much of the English harbor. I've been trying to paste in the url with no luck. Here it is in regular type:

  7. as an ex-marylander i know that's hard work. nice job. i miss crabs.

  8. I love crab - you are so lucky!
    It is outrageously expensive here.
    I'll just have to have fond memories of when I worked on the East Coast....

  9. Forgot - those were just little, bitty things. Your's look fantastic!

  10. I just came back to look at the photos again!

    They are that good!

  11. Christine,
    If I could get crab for $2.50lb I'd be doing a snoopy dance too!! Maybe I'll go mug a fisherman. Seriously though the salad sounds excellent. Thanks for the post.

  12. That's just mean to torture us like that!!! :):) And the crabs taste so good when you get them fresh like that. My grandma Bessie in Mississippi would take me crabbing when I was a kid. It does take a long time to clean a crab--but it's worth it! That pile of crab meat is so beautiful--worth more than gold. Have you locked your doors? We're all coming to steal it! :):)

  13. I'm going crazy over here! Oh, how I adore crab. You're incredibly lucky to be living where you do, able to get nice, fresh crabs and at a great price!


  14. I am so jealous. I miss California so much. Every chance I get when I go home, I eat crab. I love the local crab feeds in the East Bay. There is nothing like a fresh, mean, fighting crab. I would get them from a fisherman friend also, and pick them up alive. Clean and cook them myself.

    I do have to ask you to find a recipe for me. My husband's uncle lives in Trinidad also, and we used to get spud boats at a restaurant nearby. They had a lovely crab and avocado crepe breakfast about 10 years ago. Would any of the locals have this recipe?

  15. Christine, thanks for the AWESOME pictures!!! The salad looked so good I had to print the recipe. We get live crabs shipped to us from Half Moon Bay for 7.50 lb but they only sell them from about mid November until March or so but they're shipped still alive. See; or a1seafood dot com it's a small family thing and they're real nice. I have to tell you this story; my wife pulled them out of the carton a few years ago and saw that they moved just a little but real slow so she put them in the sink. MISTAKE. Once they warmed up again we had a horrible time getting them in the pot. One got away and ran at least 20' and hid under the couch before we could even think about trying to pick it up. The look on our faces, ohhhh. We'll thanks for sharing and if you ever do order live crab be sure to get them in the cooking pot quick as they are not easy to handle.

  16. Because of "Accounting's" recent comment, I can see that I've was very negligent about answering all your kind and thoughtful comments and should be lashed with a crab claw - gently. :)
    Thank you all for being so loyal to my blog. I appreciate all of you.

  17. That's a very funny story, Accounting. We get crabs every year, keep them in a deep cooler on the back deck and as of yet have had no escapees.

  18. Just googled avg weight of these crabs and found your blog! Wow, didn't know these things were that expensive elsewhere!! I feel so fortunate to be living on the west coast... the Bay Area, CA!! I just bought 10 crabs last night!! They were delicious!! It's true that they are much cheaper here!!


Thank you for stopping by! I will do my best to respond to your comments and questions so feel free to write to me here. Sorry for the comment moderation but it helps to keep the spammers at bay.