Crabs in San Francisco? Fun on a Presidio Hike.
It’s early January and crabs are typically the favorite New Years delicacy favored by San Franciscans and everyone living around the Bay Area. And why not, it’s crab season and the local Dungeness crabs are what every restaurant in town is featuring as a seasonal specialty until early spring time. Needless to say the prices you pay at the fish monger is going to be sky-high. Not surprisingly, resourceful individuals are taking it into their own hands by going out in droves, fishing in the waters and even donning very cold wetsuits and braving the extremely cold waters to set up crab traps just outside the breakers where many coastal crabs come to feast on foods dredged up from the surf line.
Baker Beach visit
I was intrigued, the first time I walked down to Baker Beach fronting the Golden Gate bridge, trekking along the coastal and rugged headlands that ring the natural areas that are part of the Golden Gate National Park system. Walking and gawking at the stunning homes along the swank Sea Cliff area to the wide beach expanse and stunning views of the orange-red tinged Golden Gate, I panned the coast and spotted a lot of fishermen and activity along the coast. It was not surprising to see a lot of people out on the beach on nice winter day with temperatures around 70 degrees. There were a few hobby fishermen on the water and surprisingly they were all out crabbing with their fishing poles instead of those bulky crab traps. Talking with the guy that was there, he wasn’t getting any bites yet but had only been there for an only an hour or so and it was a perfect day to enjoy being outside with no big crowds on the beach.
The Dungeness is just a hair too small and has to be tossed back (per crab ruler), also it is a female which is strictly forbidden to catch in the Bay Area.
Meanwhile the dogs are just loving being out on the beach today…
So good, this one’s a keeper….
China Beach visit
I continue my walk along the grand homes hugging the cliffs around China Beach, admiring the last of the Christmas decorations and the beautiful gardens and details to the exterior facades of homes I’m typically attracted to: Spanish colonial, Monterrey mixed in with modern organic styles. Further down the ocean frontage road is the small cove of China Beach, once a popular fishing and immigrant housing spot for Chinese immigrants while on transit to the Gold Rush in the Hill country in the mid 1850s. I’m thinking, if they only knew how valuable and stunning this beach would eventually be during this time frame. fortunately, it has been preserved as a beach for swimmers, fishermen and occasional tourists. I spot a few crabbers with the more bulky crab traps which are being stuffed with raw chicken and other stinky bait to attract those yummy crustaceans to enter and get trapped in the basket. I chit-chat with the guy who is donning a wetsuit and planning on paddling out with his boogie board against the tied to drop his nets.
The entire beach is already littered with floats beyond the surf and designating the traps below. Apparently some leave the traps all day and come in to harvest later in the afternoon, while others have a different technique of checking every 4 hours or so when the baits smells start to diminish, reducing the amount of crabs entering the traps. I contemplate whether I could squeeze into a wet suit and paddle out to the breaking surf to lay out the traps in freezing cold water. This regular tells me it could be hit or miss, but on lucky days, he could snag over 40 crabs in just one trap (wow that’s a lot of Dungeness to eat or give away!)
Crab Fest dinner
After checking out all the action at the beaches, I was fortunate to be invited for a crab dinner at a friend’s house who is a fellow Dungeness crab lover and she makes the most amazing crab dishes with a delicious twist that really makes these delicacies shine. We are visiting her home and walking in the front door, it immediately smells spicy, lemony and with aromas that just grab you and make you want to see the dishes being created.
We are going to be treated to two different kinds of crab flavors: one done in a spicy Malaysian pepper style and the other also with oriental overtones but mostly using butter, curry leaves and chili spices. If your interested in trying to make the dishes, I’ve included the recipes below from our hostess who graciously provided the recipe and they both look relatively easy to make but do take some prep time to get the ingredients ready. Most of the ingredients are fairly easy to source except for the curry leaves and I’m sure you can substitute with the dried version.
Black Pepper Crab recipe
3 fresh crabs (about 1 lb each)
Oil for deep frying
2 tablespoons butter
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
1 tablespoon salted soya beans, mashed
2 tablespoons dried prawns, roasted and ground
2 tablespoons black pepper, ground coarsely
½ cup curry leaves
10 red or green bird’s-eye chilies, chopped
2 tablespoons black soy sauce
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
- Clean the crabs and cut in half, discarding the spongy “dead man’s fingers.”
- Smash the claws with a cleaver to allow the seasonings in. Deep fry the crab until half-cooked, drain and set aside.
- Heat a wok, melt butter and put in shallots, garlic, salted soy beans, dried prawns, black pepper, curry leaves and chilies. Saute till fragrant, then add crab and the remaining ingredients.
- Cook for 5-10 minutes until the crab is done.
Creamy Butter Crab recipe
2 lbs. crab
1 ½ cups evaporated milk
1 stick butter
1 teaspoon sugar or to taste
½ teaspoon salt or to taste
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon corn starch
2 stalks curry leaves
5 bird’s eye chilies (lightly pounded)
Clean the crab and cut into pieces. Use paper towels to pat dry the crab. Deep-frying the Chinese buns or mantou to golden brown and set aside. Lay them over paper towels to soak up excess oil. Mix the corn starch with water and set aside.
Heat up a wok to medium heat. Melt the butter in the wok before adding the curry leaves and bird’s eyes chilies. As soon as you smell the aroma from the curry leaves and bird’s eye chilies, add in the crab and stir continuously until the crab starts to turn color. Add the evaporated milk and cover the wok and turn the heat to low. Simmer for about 5 minutes, and then add in corn starch to thicken the creamy butter sauce.
What a treat to have Dungeness crab when it is in season especially when someone invites you over to make a sumptuous meal – amazing dishes don’t you think? So if you are looking to try a different preparation of crab, try out either of these recipes and invite me, I’ll bring a nice bottle of champagne!
Thanks for reading this post on the Presidio hikes, crabbing and crab fest in San Francisco. I hope you enjoyed the post, and if you did, please do share it with any of the social media buttons located around the post, thank you.