Thanks to a dispute between local fisherman and seafood processors, San Francisco’s crab season began late.
SF Gate (11/29/11) reported that crab fishermen in San Francisco, Half Moon Bay and Bodega Bay wanted $2.50 per pound, but the processors were offering only $2. The offer was a 25-cent increase over last year but still one of the lowest prices in 30 years according to Larry Collins, head of the San Francisco Crab Boat Owners Association.
But moments after a deal was reached (2.25 per pound for the delectable shellfish), the commercial crab season officially began.
“I think these crabs are worth more because the expenses have quadrupled over the last 20 years and we’re still getting paid the same thing, but we are glad to be fishing,” Collins said. “Everybody is out there now setting gear.”
While the prices for the food processors are rock bottom (considering the delicacy), the prices in the store are a lot higher. Although I’ve read that prices outside SF are lower, the best crab in SF can be bought in stores like New Mission Market and Swan’s Oyster Depot on Polk St. .
There are dozens of ways to serve crab but one of the finest is also the simplest – saute in butter or olive oil and serve with lemons and more butter. Add sourdough bread and white wine and you’ve got a feast that doesn’t need any more items.
But if you want something more elaborate, try Crab Louis, According to various sources, including the late, great James Beard (New Fish Cookery, @1976), the dish was invented by one of the fin du siecle chefs at the Palace Hotel. Or maybe the St. Francis Hotel. or maybe the Bohemian Restaurant in Portland, Oregon.
There are as many claims as there are variations on the recipe
The earliest recipe is from 1910, in a cookbook by Victor Hertzler, head chef of the St. Francis Hotel. What’s the main ingredient?
In ” Bohemian San Francisco” (1914) by Clarence E. Edwords sang the praises of our local crab, along with a healthy dose of San Franciscian pride. Apparently, our foodie scene developed early.
“One has to come to San Francisco to partake of the king of shell fish— the mammoth Pacific crab. I say “come to San Francisco” advisedly, for while the crab is found all along the coast it is prepared nowhere so deliciously as in San Francisco. Of course our friends in Portland will take exception to this, but the fact remains that nowhere except in San Francisco have so many restaurants become famous because of the way they prepare the crab. The Pacific crab is peculiar, and while it has not the gigantic claws such as are to be seen on those in the Parisian and London markets, its meat is much more delicate in flavor, and the dishes of crab prepared by artists of the gastronomic profession in San Francisco are more savory than those found elsewhere.”
Edword’s recipe: Solari’s Crab Louis
Take meat of crab in large pieces and dress with the following:
One-third mayonnaise, two-thirds chili sauce, small quantity chopped
English chow-chow, a little Worcestershire sauce and minced tarragon, shallots and sweet parsley. Season with salt and pepper and keep on ice.
Although variations of the recipe exist, an essential ingredient is a seafood dressing such as Crab Louie dressing, Thousand Island dressing or green goddess dressing. This dressing is either served on the side or mixed with the other ingredients, depending on which recipe is used.
A modern version consists of:
Hard boiled eggs,
served on a bed of Romaine lettuce
with a Louie dressing based on mayonnaise, chili sauce and peppers on the side.
Olives and green onions have also been listed as ingredients in some recipes. But a real San Franciscian would consider that heresy. Serve with sourdough bread, white wine and lots of napkins to clean up the mess.
Clarence E. Edwords, Bohemian San Francisco. 1914. (Project Guttenberg)
James Beard. New Fish Cookery, 1976. p 372