Letter From California
11/16/06 1412.41 pst
San Jose, California
With many huzzahs and fanfare The San Francisco Chronicle bade farewell to the golden gate crab fleet as it headed out to sea last week, anticipation of toothsome recipes buried under the howling marketing blast of the hapless crustaceans on every travel brochure in the world. There is some validity, perhaps, to the unique culinary experience of eating Dungeness crabs, but this infatuation with a crab is ridiculous
Northern Californians have been neurotic about the crab catch for generations, of course—at one time the mascot for the San Francisco Giants was the infamous Crazy Crab, who at least got a little redemption when he absolutely blasted Stomper, the A’s mascot, in a vicious blind hit before an A’s-Giants retro game last year that would have made any football coach proud.
The Chronicle printed a happy, optimistic graph of the catch at 5,181,441 pounds for this year, which I clumsily convert to 2,590 tons. Not to be a downer or anything, but before the Dungeness catch crashed in the late 1950’s the catch was routinely in the 50,000 ton range.
I’m not a marine biologist, but as I understand it post-war expansion around Mare Island, Suisun and San Pablo Bays crushed a vital element of the Dungeness ecosystem.
Still, the crab catch is sill there, in a fashion, and if one wants to pony up some serious dough freshly cooked or live crab is common in Bay Area supermarkets. I have an unfortunate annual experience with it, for my sister serves whole cooked Dungeness every Christmas Eve, forcing the guests the crack the meat at the table. It’s an uncouth, messy operation that insults the diner with tedium and splattered crab-juice clothes.
NorCal Dungeness crab should be served as it commonly was in almost any bar in San Francisco when legions of sailors passed through 1942-45: one pound cooked, shelled room-temperature plain crab served in a paper tray (twenty five cents), a quarter round of San Francisco sourdough bread and steam beer, preferably in a heavily influenced, but not dominated, testosterone atmosphere.
Those dainty meals with mounds of cracked shells on fine china are absurd. I finally brought a lasagna every year, which, of course, is a huge hit. I’m eternally grateful to Lydia, the Italian PBS cook, who taught me to cool the noodles on oiled trays, building the lasagna with the first layer hanging half out over the sides. This way at the final layer one wraps up the build like a bundled baby, it’s a gorgeous thing that helps a great deal when serving, too.
I still have issues with my lasagna, for I mix my cheeses in the layers, when classically each layer is supposed to represent a different texture from each singular layer of cheese. It’s horseshit and all still clamor for the lasagna every year, but it still creases me.
It’s that time of year when folks are on the move, the supermarkets are under siege and all are getting out their recipes. The Left Coaster wishes all safe travels and productive shopping.