It was a calm June day in Southeast Alaska. We were setting 200-lb, 7-ft base diameter conical crab pots to survey the red king crab grounds for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. As our own research vessel was overbooked this June, we were working on a chartered commercial vessel. We zigzagged through the area setting pots in preselected locations. Setting pots on a survey is different from commercial fishing as the pot locations are randomly predetermined (within areas of known crab habitat based upon historical survey catch distribution) so that the catch will be representative of the area and year, not of the skipper’s skill and knowledge. However, when chartering with a commercial skipper we habitually set additional ‘skippers choice,’ ‘prospecting’ pots using his knowledge of the area to expand our own.
I was having a hard time making myself useful. The deckhand wasn’t big, but commanded the deck with lithe, fluid movements. Grab the bait jars, throw them in the pot, snap them onto the webbing, using the hydraulic boom, lift the pot onto the launcher, throw the buoy and line over, launch the pot on the skippers’ quiet command over the deck speaker. Having performed these tasks as part of a team of three, I could see that there wasn’t any wasted movement here. The sparse, purposeful motion reminded me of the Japanese tea ceremony. As a biologist, field work is a welcome break from sitting at a computer analyzing data and writing reports; and it is a joy to work physically on the deck of a boat, so I did my best to contribute.
Several hours later we were done setting pots. We entered data into the computer as the boat rocked gently at anchor, then ate a simple tasty dinner, watched the sun set, and hit the sack.
The next morning, 18 hours later, we started pulling pots. Another nice day, not too sunny to dry out the crabs and make the bait smelly, but not too blowy or rough either, and the horse flies hadn’t hatched out yet as they would later in July. The pots came aboard as smoothly as they had gone over. Throw the hook to grapple the buoy, hand over hand the buoy aboard, wrap the crab block, and with a whine of the hydraulics, the pot surfaces. Hook the pot with the boom hook and pull it over the deck, unhook the purse line that holds the pot bottom closed, and release the crab onto the sorting table. Sort and measure the crab. There were big beautiful legal males, most with shiny clean shells, a few barnacle-studded and scratched; the females all have abdomens bulging with new purple-brown egg clutches, and the juveniles are spiny and quick. After we measure them, crabs are released gently overboard; they swim away, dreamlike into the depths. It is satisfying, rewarding work.
Back in the office our biometrician was waiting impatiently for this data, as the time between data collection, analysis, and management decisions is tight. He estimates the red king crab population size through mathematical modeling techniques. This information is used to set harvest levels for the commercial and sport fisheries in the area.
While fun to know how crabs get to our table, the biggest consideration for cooks is what recipe to use! In all honesty, I like king crab best sectioned, boiled in lightly salted water and dipped in butter. However, if you are lucky enough to have an abundance of this delicacy, then I can heartily recommend this recipe.
Thai Red King Crab Legs
Large fry pan or wok with lid
1 lb shell-on, uncooked red or golden king crab legs
3 T grape seed oil or canola oil
2 large shallots
1 clove garlic
1 ½ T ginger, julienned
2 T Thai fish sauce
1 t red pepper flakes
½ c dry white wine
Juice of 1 lime
½ lb green beans
1 c cooked short-grain white rice
- Cut king crab legs in sections and then halve lengthwise with kitchen shears.
- Slice shallots and garlic thinly and julienne ginger.
- Cut green beans in bite-size lengths, remove stems.
- Put grape seed oil in wok and heat until sizzling, add shallots, garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes, cook until shallots are translucent.
- Add shell-on king crab leg sections, green beans, fish sauce, chicken stock, and white wine to shallot mixture.*
- Cover and cook for 6 minutes.
- Serve over boiled short-grain white rice.
- This recipe feeds 2 people.
* If crab leg sections are cooked, add them at about minute 4 of the 6-minute cooking time.