ASTORIA, Ore. — On a recent trip across the Columbia River estuary near Astoria, local fisherman and chef Jeff Graham and fishing guide Bill Monroe Jr put on a crab fishing clinic. Bill relied on shad and chicken for bait and he set out a string of crab traps near Clatsop Beach in 25 feet of water. Graham said there’s no place he’d rather be when Dungeness crabbing is red hot!
“I have to say, it’s pretty amazing,” said Graham. “It‘s kind of neat to pull out a trap and then eat fresh crab a couple hours later.”
Each crabber is allowed a dozen male crabs apiece and in Oregon they must be five and three-quarters inches across the back. You can easily see the difference on the underside of the crab. The wide abdominal shell marks the female – the thinner marks the male. All females and the small crabs go back.
Females are protected to preserve the breeding population of crabs. A crab gauge or other measuring device is essential gear since some crabs miss the mark by only a fraction of an inch.
Each Oregon crabber 12 years and older must carry an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Shellfish License. Each crabber can use up to three crab traps.
Our success was fabulous – 22 crabs in less than an hour. the best was yet to come as we headed for the kitchen, where Graham put on a different sort of clinic preparing four distinct and delicious crab recipes.
Graham loves to share unique crab recipes while on the job as executive chef at Astoria’s Fort George Brewery + Public House.
“You can do anything with Dungeness. It has such a sweet, rich, delicious meat. In fact, my favorite way is to just crack the shell and just start eating,” noted the longtime chef.
Recipe #1 is a match made in heaven: avocado toast with crab! Two pieces of sourdough are toasted in a wood burning oven. Stone ground mustard is spread atop each piece of toast, followed by a generous amount of sliced avocado. Then crab leg meat is placed atop the avocado and vinaigrette covered greens.
Next up is Recipe #2 is crab cakes! Ingredients include: 2lbs of cracked crab meat, ¼ cup of red pepper finely diced, ½ cup aioli, 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard, 1 cup of Panko, 2 tablespoons of minced parsley, salt and pepper to taste. Directions: combine all but ½ cup of Panko. Form mixture into 2.5-ounce patties or cakes and cover with the remaining Panko. Pan fry gently with clarified butter until golden brown. Gently turn and brown both sides. Serve with Saffron Aioli. Makes 16 crab cakes.
Recipe # 3 is a delicious and easy to make crab pizza! Home-made pizza dough is covered with a mild San Marzano tomato sauce. Graham then flaked large chunks of crab meat across the pizza followed with a generous amount of hard grated cheese called Pecorino Romano. The cheese adds a sharp, salty flavor. A handful of chopped shallots top the crab pizza and then Graham slid the pie into his wood burning oven for just a few minutes.
Graham trained in Portland and he has worked at white linen restaurants throughout the country. He arrived at Fort George Brewery and Public House in 2015 and he has never looked back.
He said the business has grown from a single brewpub up to a city block that’s filled with restaurants, tasting rooms and breweries that boast scores of beers and ales and ciders.
“We make a really good product,” offered Graham. “Our beers are fantastic, and we take a lot of pride in our food. It’s all very scratch. It’s all very local, and we have a lot of great people who work here.”
Graham’s Recipe #4 is a terrific finale of simmering Crab-Seafood Gumbo that’s rich with varied ingredients: 4 ounces of all-purpose flour and four ounces of clarified butter are combined to make a roux. Cook the mixture over medium high heat stirring constantly until the roux turns the color of an old penny (be careful not to burn or scorch the roux.) When the roux is dark brown add 1 yellow onion diced ½ inch, 2 green bell peppers diced ½ inch and 4 celery sticks diced ½ inch. Cook the trinity in the roux stirring. Add 15 ounces of San Marzano #10 tomato diced and 64 fluid ounces of crab or shell fish stock – then the following: 2 tablespoons of thyme, 3 bay leaves, 3 tablespoons of paprika. 1 tablespoon ground white pepper – add salt and tobacco sauce to taste – bring mixture to a simmer for 30 minutes until the flour has cooked out.
Then add 2 lbs of whole Dungeness crab meat that’s been picked from the shell and then add 2 tablespoons of gumbo file (herbal powder made from the dried and ground leaves of the sassafras tree) DO NOT BOIL once the file powder has been added. It will make the Gumbo stringy. Serve the Gumbo over rice – Serves 8.
The food was plated and served to guest tasters Bob Waldron and Walt Kastner.
“I had no idea you could do so many different things with crab,” noted Waldron. “Usually, we crack crab and pop open a beer – but with just a little bit of effort the crab is so versatile – the Avocado-Crab sandwich is to die for.”
“The Crab Cakes are just outstanding,“ said Kastner. “they are the best I have ever had and I eat a lot of crab cakes.”
If there is a heaven on earth, I think I found it at Ft George Brewery. It’s open daily and worth your time to check out.
If you would like to visit more of Oregon – consider a walk on the wild side with my latest book: “Grant’s Getaways: Oregon Adventures with the Kids.” You’ll find activities to engage any kid, from archery to clamming on the coast to hunting for thundereggs to zip-lining through trees in an aerial adventure park.
In addition, be sure to check out “Grant’s Getaways Guide to Wildlife Watching in Oregon.” you will enjoy 48 uniquely Oregon adventures highlighting my fish and wildlife encounters. scores of colorful photos by “Grant’s Getaways” photographer, Jeff Kastner, show off some of our finest moments in the field. You can also learn more about many of my favorite Oregon adventures in: "Grant's Getaways: 101 Oregon Adventures."