Monday, April 14, 2008

Recipes: Steamed Alaska King Crab & Spinach with Garlic and Preserved Lemon

For the last five days, I’ve been celebrating my birthday. I’ve indulged myself, and been indulged by my friends and husband. My house looks ravaged (indulgence=no cleaning). My blog’s been neglected (indulgence=no writing).

Now it’s Monday, and time to pick up the pieces. The dishwasher’s humming, and a load of clothes is in the washer. I’ve taken out the crab shell laden garbage.

The crab shells are from one of my birthday indulgences: live Alaska king crab.

I’ve only ever seen live king crab in Alaska, which is a pity because it’s the best tasting seafood I’ve ever had in a life of searching out the world’s finest foods from the sea. When fresh, Alaska king crab tastes sweet and salty, with a firm, meaty texture. Frozen king crab legs don’t do justice to the glorious flavor of fresh king crab.

When I was young, we used to buy live king crab off the dock: $5 for small crabs (5-8 pounds) and $10 for large crabs (8-12 pounds). In those days, boiling up a mess of Alaska king crab was one of my favorite company dinners. That was before over-fishing threatened king crab stocks and king crab fishing became a highly regulated industry, as it is today.

Now we’re lucky to find live king crab and rarely pay less than $50 for one small crab. In the old days I used to cook with king crab as an ingredient (and still make crab cakes out of rare leftovers). Now, it’s so expensive that I only serve unadulterated crab, perhaps with a little melted butter on the side.

Steaming crabs is a recent innovation in our house. For years, I followed my mother’s lead and boiled live crab (guts and all, for better flavor). Then I read about a lobster taste test in which steamed lobsters beat out boiled, so decided to try steaming crab. As with the lobster I’d read about, steamed crab has better, more concentrated flavor than when it’s boiled. Call me a steaming convert.

After I cooked and cleaned the crab, I put it in the refrigerator to chill. That meant making space in my woefully overcrowded refrigerator. When I jerked the bag of Full Circle Farm spinach from where it was precariously balanced on the top shelf, a jar of preserved lemons came tumbling down on me.

Inspired by the falling jar of lemons, I added some to the spinach I was serving that night as a side dish. The tart, salty lemons were a wonderful addition to the earthy taste of spinach. This easy recipe is a keeper.

Steamed Alaska King Crab
Steaming crab couldn’t be easier. Put an inch or so of water in the bottom of a large stockpot, pop in a steamer, bring the water to a boil, put the live crab on the steamer, and steam it for 15 – 25 minutes, depending on the size of the crab. When the crab is cool, clean it by discarding the gills and innards. Separate the legs and break the body in half, using paper towels if needed to protect your hands from the spiny shells. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve with little bowls of melted butter, and nut crackers or kitchen shears.

Spinach with Garlic and Preserved Lemon
Serves 4

2 large bunches of spinach
2 Tbsp. garlic
Freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp.
harissa or 1 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/4 cup minced preserved lemon peel (peel from 1 preserved lemon) or 1 Tbsp. finely grated lemon peel (see NOTE)
2 Tbsp. lemon juice

Wash the spinach in two changes of water to remove all the grit. Remove and discard the stems and tear any large leaves into pieces.

Sauté the garlic, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in olive oil over medium heat until the garlic softens. Do not let the garlic brown. Stir in the harissa.

Add the spinach, and stir until it wilts (you may need to add the spinach a little at a time so it fits in the pan). When all the spinach is wilted, remove it from the heat, taste and add salt, pepper, and harissa, as needed. Stir in the minced preserved lemon peel and lemon juice and serve immediately.

NOTE: Preserved lemons are often used in Moroccan cooking. They are tart, salty, and very easy to make. If you use
my recipe for preserved lemons, you’ll have to let the lemons cure for at least a week before you can use them. If you don’t want to bother making them, you may buy preserved lemons at Middle Eastern markets, specialty stores, and online. To use preserved lemon, remove it from the brine in which it is swimming and rinse it well. Remove the flesh, and any stringy bits from the inside of the peel. The peel is now ready to use.

Preserved Lemon Recipes
Preserved Lemons, Candied Lemon Peels, and Sparkling Mint-Lemonade (I make preserved lemons, candy the extra lemon peels, and use leftover syrup for sparkling lemonade.)
Moroccan Salmon, Fennel-Preserved Lemon Salad, & Sweet Potato Oven Fries (I deconstruct a Moroccan tagine, and use preserved lemons to make Preserved Lemon Aioli and in a fennel and red pepper salad.)
Moroccan Eggplant Salad with Preserved Lemon (Susan flavors eggplant salad with preserved lemons, and makes a preserved lemon martini).
To find more preserved lemon recipes, Food Blog Search is a great tool.

This is my entry for
Antioxidant Rich Foods/Five-a-Day Tuesdays hosted by Sweetnicks.


Peter G said...

Happy B'day Laurie! I'm glad you enjoyed your indulgences! I've never cooked whole "live" crabs before so this process is new to me and very interesting. Love the spinach with the preserved lemons and as usual you have wowed us with your wonderful cooking knowledge.

Lulu said...

Glad you had a nice little birthday "vacation"!

I love the ideas for preserved lemon. I made some preserved lemons about a year ago, but kept running out of ideas for using them. This one looks lovely!

Sam Sotiropoulos said...

Ah... live King crabs! I knew there was a reason people choose to live in Alaska, now I know what it is! Laurie, it's not in my nature to be envious of others but I do think you are a most fortunate soul to have such a bounty of the sea so readily and freshly available!!!

And what needs be said about preserved lemons...? Bravo!

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

What a wonderful way to celebrate your birthday! the crab looks the business, and I can imagine that the addition of the spinach made it all rather blissful.

Peter M said...

Happy B-day Laurie, a fitting fete with King Crab.

It's a pity it's so expensive...even for you in Alaska.

You've prepared simply, unadultered as most seafood should be.

Maria V said...

i love the big huge look of seafood outside greece - i like the taste of greek seafood, but it always seems to be served in morsel size pieces...

Ivy said...

Happy Birthday Laurie. No wonder why they call it King crab, maybe because it is food for royalties. Certainly this is something we cannot afford and the only crab I've eaten is crab salad in restaurants where you need a magnifying lens to see the crab. However both the crab and spinach sound great.

Bijoux said...

Happy belated Birthday Laurie!! You are an Aries!! I'm a fire sign too, a Sagittarius...if you believe in astrology that is! LOL

Onto palatable things...Alaskan Crab...WOW!! If my mother could see this now. I love crab but I'm lucky if I can get canned crab, which is still very pricey in the supermarkets.

China town often has live fresh crabs but they are small and only seasonal and definitely not Alaskan King crab.

I have tried boiled crab but never steamed. I'm curious to give it try as soon as I find a supply of fresh crab in my city.

In Summer when the cost of lemons goes down, I will try the Moroccan preserved lemons. I'm looking forward to it.

Kevin said...

Happy birthday! Cooking a fresh king crab sounds like it would be really good. I have only ever seen the frozen variety here.

Lisa said...

Such indulgence is a necessary element of creativity. Many happy returns Laurie.

Laurie Constantino said...

Thank you all for the birthday wishes, and the kind words about my blog!

Bijoux, it's funny but my husband and the women I've been close friends with longest are all Sagittarious. Not that I believe in astrology, or anything like that.

And talking about your mother and crab, it reminded me of a story: A couple years ago, I was in the village while my husband was still in Alaska. He sent me a picture of one of our friends with a halibut that was begger than he was. I printed a copy and brought it to show the fishman, who couldn't believe his eyes. He taped the picture on the wall, where it still was last fall. Then I bought a half kilo of tiny Aegean fishies for my lunch.

Kalyn said...

I hope you had a great birthday! Glad you got to indulge a bit!

Núria said...

HAPPY BIRTHDAY LAURIE!!!!!! Muchas felicidades :D

You are so lucky to be able to find and eat this wonderful king crab! And thanks for the tip about steaming... I've always boiled my crabs and lobsters, but I do believe steaming is better.... poor things :(

Laurie Constantino said...

Thanks Kalyn and Nuria! And Nuria, I hope you try steaming crabs/lobster at least once - I'd be interested in your opinion.

mimi said...

happy belated birthday! what a great post, would take king crab over lobster, any day! my dad has a family ritual with a crabfest. we only get the legs down here in new york, but he steams them with all sorts of spices (i have no idea what's in there, but i do know some allspice and cloves and a dozen other ones). they are delish! hmm, i better go bug him to have another one soon! :)

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