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Grant's Getaways: A Dungeness dinner

Grant McOmie serves up a Dungeness dinner in this week's getaway.

OREGON, USA — Commercial Dungeness crab season is red hot and rolling along despite cold, wet and stormy conditions.

There was also a long delay to the start of the fishing season (the commercial season normally begins Dec. 1) due to a naturally occurring toxin called domoic acid.

Steve Fick, owner of Fishhawk Fisheries, a seafood processing business, said, “The quality of the crab has been excellent! We have full crabs with good meat recovery off the sections and firmness. They’re actually in really prime shape for consumption.”

He added that despite the season delay and the COVID-related restaurant closures, the demand is high.

“We’ve seen seafood sales from the retail market go way up," Fick said. "We have more people buying in the supermarket and taking it home to prepare it. In fact, the consumption level has stayed strong for almost every seafood product.”

Fick added that Dungeness crab is Oregon’s most valuable seafood and last year’s crab catch was valued at more than $72 million to Oregon coastal communities.

Fick and his fishing friends, Steve Williams and Terry Hartill, love to eat fresh crab as much as they like to catch them. The trio recently met to prepare three of their favorite crab recipes. Each recipe offered a low-calorie approach.

Recipe #1 is an easy to fix Dungeness Crab Dip:

Combine ½ cup each of low fat mayo, low fat sour cream and cup yogurt. Steve said he will cut the calories by 70 percent using this low-fat approach.

“It is a real simple dip emphasizing low calories so you can eat this without feeling bad about it.”

He seasoned the dip with a tablespoon each of parsley, green onions, 1 teaspoon each of ground pepper and paprika, plus a tablespoon of dry ranch dressing. Then he folded in two cups of cracked Dungeness crab.

He placed the bowl of crab dip on a platter and surrounded it with varied vegetables. He added cracked crab legs across the top of the dip and provided fine finishing touch.

“The crab is really excellent quality this year so this will be delicious,” Fick said with a smile.

Crab Recipe #2 follows the same low-calorie theme, and it is called Salmon Wrapped Crab:

Fick cut thin strips from a salmon filet – each strip was approximately 6-7 inches long and 2 inches wide.

The thin cut salmon strips provided a base for a tablespoon of crab mix. For the mix, Steve blended one cup low fat mayonnaise with two tablespoons each of finely chopped yellow peppers and finely chopped onion, plus one cup of crab meat.

He rolled up the salmon strip around the crab mix and poked a toothpick through the salmon to hold it all together.

The Salmon Wrapped Crab went under the oven broiler for two and a half minutes. Then he added a pinch of parmesan cheese atop each wrap and placed the tray back under the broiler for another minute and a half.

“The key," he cautioned, “is not to cook the fish too long or it will dry out.”

Crab Recipe #3 found Williams and Hartill outdoors on a rainy winter’s night where they cooked up a Dungeness Crab Feast.

Williams began by placing corn on the cob – each ear is wrapped in foil – atop the barbeque grill (he used a Weber-style grill with white-hot charcoal for heat.)

“You may not want to do this on a rainy night, but certainly in the summertime. Everyone I know loves a fresh ear of barbequed corn,” said Williams.

Williams also grilled an assortment of vegetables as a side dish for the “Crab Feast” that included sliced yellow squash, green zucchini, sliced peppers, asparagus spears and red onions.

Williams loves to grill oysters as a fine compliment to the crab. He placed whole oysters in the shell atop the grill and closed the lid until the oysters started to pop open (about 10 minutes) and he then dabbed a small amount of butter and cooked bacon inside each oyster.

Meanwhile, Hartill placed cooked crab sections atop the Weber grill: “You’re not trying to cook it again – it’s already been cooked. All you want to do is warm it back up and you can and smoky flavor to it with wood chips. After 2-3 minutes it comes out warm and delicious.”

Terry Hartill is co-owner of Seaside, Oregon’s Bell Buoy Seafood and said that a Dungeness Crab Feast is a long Oregon tradition.

“People just love this crab!" Hartill said. "It is a coastal tradition to do in the winter too. You can’t believe the amount of people who come in and say, ‘When I was a little kid, my dad and grandpa brought me into the store and they bought dozens of crabs.’"

Soon it was assembly time on a table jammed with the varied dishes, plus Oregon wines and brews.

I asked Williams what he enjoyed the most: cooking the crab with new recipes or eating the crab once the recipe is complete.

“Boy, that’s a tough one,” he said with a chuckle. “Let’s call it a toss-up, because I love everything out here so that’s a tough choice.”

The diners who turned out for this special crab cooking segment were in heaven. Mostly, they loved the fact that Oregon Dungeness crab is back.

Guest diner, Kerry Harsin, said he’d never tried barbecued crab: “Never and it is different. You do get a little smoky flavor and I like that. It’s really good.”

Guest diners Shannon and Sean Dotson loved the Salmon Wraps and planned to make them at home. 

“This is amazing,” said Shannon. “And so easy to make!” 

Husband Sean admitted he wasn’t a big crab eater, but that’s going to change: “It’s great! I’ve never blended crab with salmon but this is delicious.”

“Dungeness crab meals can be real social events,” said Fick. “Really a nice way of bringing people together – everyone at the table picking at their food and socializing.”

And the best part is that the recipes are so easy, anyone can try and perhaps best while Dungeness crab is fresh and in season.

Be sure to follow my Oregon adventures via the new Grant’s Getaways Podcast: Each segment is a story-telling session where I relate behind the scenes stories from four decades of travel and television reporting.

You can also learn more about many of my favorite Oregon travels and adventures in the Grant’s Getaways book series, including:

The collection offers hundreds of outdoor activities across Oregon and promises to engage a kid of any age.

My next book, “Grant’s Getaways: Another 101 Oregon Adventures” will be published in 2022.