Last week I stopped by the Wild Salmon Fish Market at the Fishermen's Terminal in Seattle and bought a big Dungeness crab. It weight over 2.5 pounds, and two of us feasted on it for dinner. Since I've never bought a crab before, I wasn't sure if $5.99 per pound was cheap, average or expensive. The guy gutted and cleaned the body and cracked the legs, leaving them all attached to the body. The crab was OUTSTANDING. The shells were very hard, so we appreciated having them pre-cracked. The flesh was firm, sweet, white and fresh. The claws were amazing, but I think the body meat was even tastier. Wow! We sat around the table and ate ourselves silly on cold crab dipped in melted butter.
Then last night I had some people over for an impromptu meal. I saw that the Capitol Hill QFC had Dungeness crabs for $3.99 per pound. Since I couldn't get to the terminal before closing, opted for a couple here. I asked the guy if he would clean and crack them for the same price, and he said yes. So while he was working on them, I browsed around and got distracted. When I turned back, I saw that he was yanking the legs off and the wonderful crabs were reduced to a pile of legs and body parts. I was dismayed. He said "That's what they told me to do." Being a bit of a novice here, I didn't give him a bad a time (though I'm sure it was written across my face), but asked if that's what people prefer. It quickly became clear to me that he knew even less about crabs than I. OK, I KNOW this was a grocery store, and what should I expect, but it was pretty disappointing. (Have no fear, lesson learned.)
The crabs themselves was not very good. First, the cleaning job was terrible. The shells were quite soft compared to the first crab I got, making me wonder if that is an indication of how long a crab has been sitting around. Any ideas? The meat wasn't beautiful, white and bursting with flavor, but just OK. I was extra disappointed since one out of town visitor loves crabs, and I had hoped to serve something as wonderful as the previous crab we ate.
So, the questions:
-What can one expect on prices? Do they change throughout the year?
-Are there other towns up or down the coast where I can get a good deal on fresh crabs?
-How can I tell if the crab is newly cooked or has been sitting around?
-Which is the "proper" way to have a crab sold to you: whole, but cleaned and cracked OR legs pulled from body in a big jumble?
-When buying a crab, is bigger better?
-Did we luck out on our first crab or should most Dungies offer that wonderful experience?
-I suppose I could buy a live one and cook it at home for maximum freshness. Anyone care to comment on this option?
Lastly, I want to give a big thumbs up to the people who work at the Wild Salmon Fish Market. They've been friendly to me when I just wander in to check out what's new and ask a bunch of questions. I don't always buy fish when I'm there, but plan for future dinners, and I truly appreciate their help and open attitudes.