Crabs in San Francisco – Check out where to find them
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. Your going to love trying the crabs in San Francisco, it’s a special treat from the region.
Where to go crabbing around the Bay Area
For those hobby fishermen that are looking for places to go crabbing around the Bay Area, Chrissy FIeld in the Marina, all of the piers around the city at Fisherman’s Wharf, the Enbarcadero wharfs and even on the beaches around the city are fair targets for crabbing spots. Even local fishermen are using traps that can float out with the tides and can be pulled back in from the shorelines, beaches and even wharf areas around the city to typically fish and go crabbing at the same time.
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 and recipe
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!
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Conclusion on Crabbing season in San Francisco
Thanks for reading this post on 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.
Awesome post, great photos! One thing to mention is that in the “keeper” photo I think that is a rock crab not dungeness. You can tell by the beautiful dark red color and the black tipped pinchers. Dungeness’ will be light colored like in the delicious food photos posted lower down!
Admiring the persistence you put into your site and in depth information you offer.
It’s awesome to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same
unwanted rehashed material. Fantastic read! I’ve saved your site and I’madding your RSS feeds to my
Beautiful photos of China Beach and the nearby surroundings. After seeing all those tasty pictures of crabs, I was glad to see that you included recipes!
I have read a few good stuff here. Certainly
price bookmarking for revisiting. I wonder how a lot effort you place tto create such a wonderful informative webb site.
Gorgeous photos and tasty too! I had a crab louie when I was in the area recently, but sadly they covered it with too much sauce. Next time!
I love crabbing! Did it in North Carolina. Nothing like catching your evening meal and having it so soooo fresh!
Lovely to see a more rural side of San Francisco – I think of it so much as a city place. And the crabs look amazing!
I always enjoy your article Noel – I tyhink mainly because the photoghraphy brings it to life.
Dammit – feeling hungry again and I can hear hubby rattling around the kitchen. He’d better bring me something nice back!
WOW WOW WOW/ I want to be on that beach (and eating that crab!)
We’re feeling an irresistible urge to return to San Francisco after reading this, Noel. If only to visit Baker Beach. We spent more time on Ocean Beach. Some great keg parties there.
These captures are amazing.I like first and second photos much.It is nice to see how crabs come to the dining table….:)
Having grown up on the East Coast, with our teeny, tiny blue crabs, Dungeness crabs were a revelation. I make a point to have them whenever I’m in SFO or Seattle. Thanks for bringing back delicious memories!
These mouth watering dishes! Don’t know which I love more: sea food or the beach. Beautiful and authentic kinds of images! Yes, I know what you mean, carrying a heavy camera, where a lot of water is around. Somehow it helps me though to focus more to take pics:)
Lovely photo of the Golden Gate Bridge, Noel. I didn’t know that you could catch crabs on a fishing pole… interesting. In fact, I am not a crab lover. I love fish, but no other kind of sea food. Beautiful way to spend a day. I’d love to go back to San Francisco.
Thanks for the Black Pepper Crab recipe. Reading your story and looking at your photos is making me hungry. I didn’t realize that you could go crabbing with just a fishing pole. It must take so long to catch them one by one. I’m so glad that you were able to chat with the guy and share what he was doing. And as always, gorgeous photos!
Fantastic photos as always. I so often miss living in San Francisco when I visit your blog.
Now I did not know there was a ‘crab season’ – that must be a great site on the beach when normally it would be empty! I love being on the beach in the winter, blue skies, cold winds and watering eyes! Probably not as cold in San Francisco though!!
You are certainly one of the best at your craft – those were stunningly beautiful shots.
Your photos are just so stunning, I’m feeling very moved looking at them. As for the crab, I bet it was delicious but I’m like Nancie, I don’t like the effort involved in eating them!!!
Love that first photo, Noel… and those dishes look so delicious.
I went crabbing in Wales once and it was amazing how easy they were to catch. I think we caught over 100 over the course of the afternoon and then let them go at the end oft he day. But over that 40 crabs with just one trap… that’s amazing!
Great way to spend the day. I love crab, but hate the work involved in getting the meat out of the shell…haha. However, these recipes sound delish, so maybe when I go back to Korea I’ll buy some crab and give the a go. Koreans love crab, and when in season is reasonably priced.
Yum, I’m a crab lover so I’m jealous of your Crab feast. The Malaysian recipe sounds delicious. I remember one of the timse I was in San Francisco. My friend took me with her to buy dungeness crabs in Half-Moon Bay directly from the fishermen. She prepared them really good. I drool just thinking about it. Time for another visit:)
I love the photos of people catching crab on the beach. I was surprised to see people catching crab with a pole! Apparently it works!
I really enjoyed this post Noel. First of all that stunning first photograph! We are long time fishing and crabbing folk, but we catch mud crabs in crab pots made of wire mesh. If we place them in sandy areas we sometimes catch blue swimmer crabs which are smaller and more delicately flavoured than mud crabs, although mud crabs are our favourite. How lucky were you to be invited to taste the malaysian style crab. I am jealous, and thank your hostess for the recipes for me 🙂
that first photo is amazing, with the bridge and the fog. i am so excited for my first visit to san francisco this march, we will be there for 3 days and then wine country for a week. you opinion: worth schlepping the dslr or a point and shoot will do??
thanks and hope you enjoyed the crabs!
There’s a lot of scenic places to take pictures in San Francisco worth slepping the DSLR but I also have a small thin mirrorless camera that is pretty amazing and easy to carry everywhere.