Sunday, September 14, 2014

When Crabbiness is Happiness

One of the many reasons Brenda and I were excited to return to the Oregon Coast was the seafood; and for Brenda that means CRAB.  On our last summer’s visit, we made regular trips to the Mill Casino in North Bend for their weekly seafood buffet.  It was paradise – local oysters on the half shell, mussels, shrimp, many varieties of seafood dishes, prime rib……and a huge iced bowl of Dungeness Crab.  For the $17 all-you-can eat, it was a bargain that we couldn’t pass on, and apparently we and other crustacean-loving seniors put the buffet out of business.  sigh.  But to the rescue came our Interpretive Ranger, Greg, who just happens to have a boat….and crab traps!  He graciously invited me on a crab excursion in the Coquille River near Bandon, and I, with Brenda’s rabid encouragement, jumped at the chance.
Captain GregLaunching the boat at the peak of high tide (crab are more active when the current is slack), Greg baited the pots with a mixture of old fish, rotten old fish, and decomposing old fish – apparently crab and my last Lab puppy have the same preferences, and we dropped our three traps into the water.

Crab Bait
For the next 20 minutes or so, we cruised around in what was unusually calm water and light wind.  Finally it was time to pull up the traps and see what we had – like opening a Christmas present, I was excited to see what was in the “box”.  And we had crabs!  about 8 or nine, all but one undersized or female (you have to throw the females back) .  Crabs in Trap
This was truly an educational experience – and I quickly learned three things: 1) Crabs do not want to come out of the trap; 2) their pinchers are like Ginsu knives, and 3) because of 1 & 2, I was in for a painful afternoon.  At first, I tried the recommended technique of grabbing them by the rear two legs and holding them that way.  Except that I found out that crabs can reach back with their other legs, and with their laser-sharp tips,  jab the crap out of your hands .  So I tried grabbing the shell from above, and quickly found out that it works as long as the crab doesn’t expect it – but all of these were.  But with patience, perseverance and profanities, I managed to sort out the throwbacks from the keepers.  And I’m sure my hands will heal in time.
Some of the big guys would grab hold of the trap, look at me with their beady eyes, and dare me to touch them.  This guy is giving me the “go ahead, make my day” stare…..Reluctant Crab
Occasionally we’d hit an area with really large crabs – this guy was our biggest of the day:
Big Crab
Eventually the tide started moving out, and the pots started coming up empty.  The sky had turned hazy with an offshore marine layer and with the Coquille Lighthouse (which we’ll be volunteering at next month) in the background, it made for a spectacular ending of the day.Lighthouse View
The next day was payback for my mangled hands.  The crabs, kept cool on ice overnight, were ready for the pot.  Firing up the gas cooker, they went into the boiling water two at a time, then into an ice water bath to stop the cooking.
Crabs in Pot
Cooked Crab
Cleaning the crabs is fairly easy, and once the crab legs and body meat are separated, they went into a bowl of ice:
Ready to Eat
One of the reasons we both love Dungeness Crab is that unlike Blue Crab (we always got tired before we got full), there’s a lot of meat on a Dungeness Crab, and since we had six crabs this time, we were ready for a feast.Crab Leg Finally it was time to eat!  Fresh crab - check, crusty French Bread - check, cold beer – check, raincoat - check.  If you’re sitting close to Brenda, a raincoat is in order, since when she starts tearing into her crab, pieces/parts fly around like snowflakes in an Alaskan snowstorm.  But through the storm you can see her big smile, because being crabby is sometimes a happy thing!
Crab Dinner
That’s it for now – check back for more of our travel adventures!