My sister was coming for a midwinter visit, intent on cramming all the essential San Francisco Bay Area experiences into her stay. Of course, the subject of the ultimate meal came up. "I think we should get bushels of fresh-cooked crab and some sourdough bread and have a grand feast," she suggested. To a landlocked Kansan, getting her fill of Dungeness crab was the California quintessence.
Her timing was excellent. By January the official commercial Dungeness crab-fishing season is under way from Alaska to the central coast of California. And while Dungeness is the most widely available crab in the West, king crab from Alaska ― primarily cooked and frozen ― is also broadly distributed.
With little more than lemon juice or melted butter, basic cracked crab ― Dungeness or Alaska king ― makes a quick, irresistible meal. And it takes only a few more minutes to turn in-the-shell crab into cioppino or to glaze it with a tangy tamarind sauce. But there is a neat side to crab as well, shelled and made into dishes both satisfying and sophisticated: crab cakes, risotto, and crab and caviar parfaits. See tips below on procuring the sweet meat from a seafood counter or plucking out your own at home.