Crab Roasted in the Shell
Ingredients
  • 2 live or cooked Dungeness crabs, 1 1/2 to 2 pounds each
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (black, white, or a combination)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground Sichuan peppercorns
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons butter
Time Estimates

Prep time: 20 min  

Cook time: 35 min  

Total time: 55 min  

Directions

  1. If using live crabs, fill a good-sized pot with enough water to cover the crabs by a couple of inches. Add 2 tablespoons salt. Put in the crabs, cover, and bring the water almost to a boil over high heat. When the water is just about to boil, turn off the heat, let steep 15 minutes, and then remove the crabs and rinse them with cold water to stop the cooking (or surround them with ice cubes to chill even faster).
  2. Clean the crabs as directed in Stir Fried Crab with Black Bean Sauce, leaving the body whole and the legs intact. Remove any loose organs from the top shells, but leave the fat pockets in the corners intact.
  3. Preheat the oven to 325˚F. Combine the remaining 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, Sichuan pepper, and garlic powder and sprinkle the mixture well over the crabs, reserving a pinch for the butter. Place right side up in a shallow roasting pan or rimmed sheet pan. Drain any water from the top shells and put them in the pan upside down. Bake until the shells are slightly browned and brittle, about 15 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, melt the butter on top of the stove with the reserved crab seasonings.
  5. Quarter the roasted crabs and arrange on a platter. Stir up to a tablespoon of the fat from the crab shells into the butter (taste it first; sometimes it can be bitter, in which case skip it), then either drizzle the butter over the crab pieces or pass it separately in ramekins. Add the top shells to the platter for decoration. Serve with Garlic Noodles (recipe follows), with individual shellfish crackers or nutcrackers.

Yield

Makes 2 to 4 servings

Good to know

Serving the butter sauce over the crab is more authentic, but I find it a little less messy to serve it in ramekins, steamed lobster style. Either way, this is messy finger food, so provide plenty of napkins and bowls for the crab shells. If you want to be really fancy, pass warm, damp washcloths at the end (you can warm them in a steamer on top of the stove while you are eating).

Which beer should I drink with this?

Pale ale, Pilsner.

Note

1. Roast crab, a whole, crisp-shelled Dungeness crab seasoned with pepper and drizzled with seasoned butter, has been a specialty of the An family's San Francisco restaurants Crustacean and Thanh Long since the early 1970s. Nearly everyone who orders the crab also orders a plate or two of garlic noodles. The recipes for both are closely guarded family secrets — each restaurant has a "secret" kitchen where this and other specialty dishes are prepared — and I don’t claim to be in on the secret. But this version comes pretty close. I learned about the roasting technique from another San Francisco restaurateur, chef Andrea Froncillo of the Crab House on Pier 39.

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Garlic Noodles

Ingredients: serves 2

  • 1 head garlic
  • 1 cup peanut or corn oil
  • 8 ounces thick, Chinese-style fresh egg noodles (regular mein)
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Pinch of ground Sichuan peppercorns
Directions
  1. Separate and peel the garlic cloves. Slice as evenly as possible (a mandoline or other slicing device makes for the most consistent slices). Combine the garlic with the oil in a wok, deep skillet, or small saucepan and set over low heat. Cook as slowly as possible, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is golden brown. Strain through a heatproof sieve into a heatproof container; spread the garlic chips on a paper towel–lined plate to dry. Let the oil cool, then store it in a tightly sealed jar. If you like, chop a heaping teaspoon of the garlic chips as finely as possible, or grind them to fine crumbs in a mortar.
  2. Boil the noodles in lightly salted water until tender; drain. Warm a generous tablespoon of the garlic oil in the wok and add the noodles, salt, black pepper, Sichuan pepper, and the optional chopped garlic bits. Toss to coat with the oil and serve immediately.
Note: This is not much more than boiled noodles dressed with garlic-flavored oil, but it is addictively good. The recipe makes more garlic oil than you’ll need, but it will keep for a couple of weeks, and you will probably find yourself using it long before that. If you are making the oil fresh for this dish, cook it in the same pan you will use for the noodles.

The Microbrew Lover’s Cookbook 

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From The Microbrew Lover’s Cookbook, Copyright © 2002 by Jay Harlow. Used by arrangement with Jay Harlow.

Photo: ZUMA Press