Cooking up crab with three Bay Area chefs

Dungeness crabs along Fisherman's Wharf. Flickr photo by Willy Volk.

A piece of warm, buttered bread goes with just about everything, but Chronicle columnist Herb Caen once said it goes especially well with San Francisco’s iconic delicacy, Dungeness crab.

HERB CAEN: Fresh, cracked Dungeness crab with Boudin's round 'dark bake' sourdough and a well chilled bottle of California Chardonnay is still the quintessential San Francisco meal.

Well, last year around this time, reporter David Ross was in the mood for some crab – so he combed the Bay in search of some recipes.

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DAVID ROSS: A couple of weeks ago, I attended a cooking demonstration at the Hercules Public Library and figured the chef might be able to help me.

MARTIN YAN: I’m Martin Yan. “Yan Can Cook.”

Yes, the renowned Bay Area-based Martin Yan can cook crab, and one of his specialties is Singapore pepper crab.

YAN: You open the shell, and you cut the center in half and the four pieces.

ROSS: Okay, so now I’ve got it all cracked up. What’s next?

YAN: The next thing is you sprinkle it with some salt and pepper and some cornstarch. And you just get ready some ginger and garlic and sauté it in a wok. And right before they start turning pink, you cover it with some chicken broth or a seafood broth or just water. About eight minutes to nine minutes, and then you toss them around, spread some soy sauce, spread some green onion and some extra ginger. Remove the lid, and then use two spatulas and just toss them. When you’re tossing it, you sprinkle the mixture of five-spice powder, pepper and salt on top. It’s absolutely delicious, one of the most popular dishes in Chinese restaurants when you prepare crab.

That sounds good, but it’s pretty involved, so I continue searching for something easier. Much easier. Like, zapping the crab.

OLIVIA WU: What the microwave does best is to steam, right?

Oliva Wu is currently an executive chef for restaurants on the Mountain View campus of Google. But a few years ago when she was a food reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, they tested microwaving crabs, and the results were very positive.

WU: Very subtle, minute difference but to me there was more flavor concentration. We actually all preferred the microwaved one to the boiled one and the steamed one.

But of course you don’t have to make crab yourself. Restaurants all over the Bay Area feature it every holiday season. At Nettie’s Crab Shack on San Francisco’s Union Street, they do crab all kinds of ways. Crab cakes, crab salad, crab rolls, and on Sundays, they have an old-fashioned crab feed. Nettie is Annette Yang.

ANNETTE YANG: Just really lovely seafood thrown onto the table, served in a bucket. And everyone just going at it. It’s very communal, everybody in the restaurant is just cracking and cleaning crab, everybody is like in bibs, kind of elbow-deep in just crab shells and goo and it’s messy fun.

How do like your crab? Boiled or nuked? Share your recipes with us on our Facebook page.