You know what makes me happy every year in early November? A mountain of Dungeness crab meat. When the crabbing season opens and those first boats leave the harbor with their crab traps, us West-coasters know we’re in for a treat.
In my town I think the best place to eat Dungeness crab is little place out on the wharf called Stagnaro’s. Downstairs there is a fish market with a walk-up counter where you can order a crab or shrimp cocktail, a burger, or a whole fish or fresh live crab to take home with you. Inside is a casual sit-down seafood restaurant. But the real treat (and where we love to take out of town visitors) is the upstairs bar, which has an outdoor deck, a panoramic view of the Monterey Bay, and a mean Dungeness crab cocktail. For some reason, the deck is usually vacant, but we have no idea why. It may be a little breezy out there and the seagulls can be loud, but it’s hard to beat the view of the ocean. Look one direction and you see our lighthouse proudly perched on the end of the cliffs with Cowell’s and Steamers (popular surf spots) down below. Look the other direction and you take in a view of the Boardwalk, the sandy beaches dotted with tourists, locals, and beach volleyball enthusiasts alike, and the Santa Cruz mountains standing tall in the background. If you’re lucky, you’ll look down at the water just below you and watch a sea otter eat a sea urchin, or a pack of sea lions splashing and bellowing. All of this while digging into a fresh Dungeness crab cocktail, biting into a warm buttered sourdough roll, and sipping a local pale ale. Sound enticing?
These open-faced sandwiches are piled high with fresh crab meat that’s been mixed with chopped marinated artichokes, green onions, just enough mayonnaise to hold it together, some lemon zest, and a little minced jalapeño for heat. You top them with sharp cheddar, stick them under the broiler, and you have a satisfying meal that celebrates both the crustacean it highlights and the season.
The recipe comes from a cookbook that I received as a gift from my Grandma who lives in Alaska. It is a collection of stories and recipes from female commercial fisherwomen. The only changes we made to the original recipe were adding a little lemon zest to the crab mixture (because I think lemon and crab are a match made in heaven), using sourdough bread instead of french bread (just a personal preference), and buttering the bread before broiling (why not?). Our changes are noted below. Not in the mood for a spicy sandwich? Simply add less jalapeño or leave it out completely.
We went the economical and labor-intensive route by purchasing a whole Dungeness crab and taking the meat out ourselves (just ask your butcher to crack and clean it for you and it will make the process easier). You can buy Dungeness crab meat, but the price per pound will be slightly more because of the labor involved. It’s up to you! If you can’t find Dungeness crab, substitute whatever crab meat is available to you.
Spicy Dungeness Crab & Artichoke Melts
(Slightly adapted from The Fishes & Dishes Cookbook; Makes 4 Servings)
1 1/2 cups shelled crab meat, shredded
1 cup marinated artichoke hearts, coarsely chopped
1 to 2 TBS. minced fresh jalapeño
1 tsp. minced garlic
a couple pinches of fresh lemon zest
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 green onion, white and light green parts, sliced
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 large slices of sourdough bread from a round sourdough loaf
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
chopped fresh parsley for garnish
- Preheat the broiler and set the rack on the middle level.
- In a medium bowl, mix together the crab meat, artichoke hearts, jalapeño, garlic, lemon zest, mayonnaise, Parmesan cheese, green onion, salt and pepper.
- Lightly butter the sourdough bread slices on both sides and place under the broiler until lightly golden. Turn them over and broil until other side is lightly golden. Remove from oven and spread each toasted slice of bread with the crab-artichoke mixture. Top with cheddar cheese. Place the open-faced sandwiches back under the broiler and cook until topping is hot and bubbly, about 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve hot.