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In the aftermath of Thanksgiving, the fam and I were feeling a bit poultried-out. Right around the middle of November, Dungeness Crabs started showing up in the grocery stores with declarations of Dungeness crab season being open emblazoned in their front windows. This is a big deal in these parts, though I have to confess that I’m not usually crazy about Dungeness crab because I grew up on the east coast with snow crab as rare, the delectable treat that I would have when we took holiday trips to the Carolinas or Georgia.

Dungeness crabs are sold already cooked and so people often serve them cold, with tools and lots of extra napkins for D.I.Y. cracking. I always feel like this is too much work for the bland, seawatery taste of the plain crabmeat. I know my quasi-traitorous opinion may incur shock and disbelief among fellow San Franciscans, but so be it. Despite all that, something abut the Dungeness Crab kiosk at Costco enticed me and I committed to purchasing a handsome 1-1/2 pound specimen. (My daughter hates that I planned to have crab for dinner because we spent an afternoon last September rescuing a bunch of Dungeness crabs that got drubbed in the sand at Ocean Beach by throwing them back out past the breakers. Obviously she would not be partaking.)

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On our way out the door, while the clerk checked our receipt, she pointed at a pile of paperback cookbooks and said that we could take a copy as a holiday gift from the store. I took my copy of Simply Delicious The Costco Way: Delectable dishes using Costco Products. We flipped the recipes when I got home and my husband was intrigued with one recipe “Spicy Asian Beer-Steamed Crab.” Crab cooked Vietnamese style is a whole ‘nother animal and I still remember loving ginger and garlic treated crab at La Vie Vietnamese on Geary in the Outer Richmond (our old nabe) and Le Colonial on Post, near Union Square. This is the way to eat crab in my book.

The recipe didn’t look hard, but it was going to require me to hit the Sunday Farmer’s Market to track down lemongrass. I’ve never bought lemongrass before but I was confident I’d be able to get it there. The market nearest to us is in the rear of a Shopping Mall and not as huge as the Marin or Alemany farmer’s markets but it has all I really need. As it turned out, only one of the stands carried lemongrass.

lemongrass photo

At another stand, where I asked if they had it because they had other Asian items like bittermelon and gorgeous bok choy, the farmer sheepishly said they do grow it but he forgot to get it on the truck that day. While I was at the market, I was also able to pick up really fresh and fragrant cilantro and ginger. Lemongrass is, as my husband puts it, like a very tough leek. The ends are discarded and you clean and cut them in much the same way, down the center and then into thin, half-moon slices.

It became pretty clear that my hub was going to take over putting the dinner together, which was A-OK with me. He was doctoring the store-bought fish sauce and planning to make a separate broth to go with the rice stick noodles we were going to make to go with it.

the fish sauce, for dipping

the fish sauce, for dipping

I cleaned the crab – another first for me – and realized what was left was not going to be enough for a meal for several adults. So off to Mollie Stone’s I went where, as luck would have it, they had a season-kick-off deal selling the crabs for only a buck more a pound than at Costco. And at Mollie’s they cracked and cleaned the crab for me – very worth the dollar or two more.

The meal turned out great. I loved eating the crab heated through rather than cold, and I enjoyed the extra layer of tastes added by the beer and lemongrass second steaming. The dish was zippy but not alarmingly so. There was still the work of cracking the claws and all, but to me it felt more like the bites I was pulling out were much more special.

Thanks, Costco. We will do this one again!

steamed crab

Spicy Asian Beer-Steamed Crab

3 pounds cooked King Crab legs and/or Dungeness clusters (cleaned halves of whole crab)
3 12-ounce bottles of good lager beer (we used 2 bottles of Lagunitas IPA – very good stuff!)
2 lemongrass stalks, cut in half lengthwise
4-inch piece of fresh ginger, thinly sliced
3-4 thai chilies, thinly sliced, divided (we didn’t have this, so used bottled Thai chili sauce)
8 garlic cloves, peeled
4 limes, cut into wedges, divided
2 green onions, thinly sliced
½ bunch cilantro, finely chopped
4 tablespoons Vietnamese fish sauce

Rinse crab under cool running water to remove any external ice.

In a 6-quart pot with a steamer insert, combine beer, lemongrass, ginger, half of the chilies, garlic and half of the lime wedges. Bring the mixture to an aromatic boil. Place the crab gently in the steamer, and steam untils it is warmed through, abut 4 – 5 minutes. Remove and place the crab on a large serving platter.

Sprinkle the crab with the remaining chilies, green onions, cilantro and fish sauce. Fish Sauce can also be served on the side for dipping. Place the remaining lime wedges on the platter around the crab. Makes 2 – 4 servings.

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