Get Crabby: A Deep Dive Into The Local Shellfish Scene

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Popei’s snow crab legs (Photo source: Facebook)

As the calendar claws its way through June, visions of the varied tastes of summertime dance in the heads of the hungry masses. While the requisite burgers and dogs of lazy cookouts offer plenty of comfort, the warm weeks of the season send most discerning eaters to the depths of the ocean for a fine meal.

Eating seafood is reminiscent of a day at sea, even when it’s consumed at home or in a restaurant residing far from where the air breathes salty. And easily some of the most amusement one can have eating seafood is with crab. Sure, lobster deservedly gets plenty of press—but diving into the depths of a bucket of crab legs and biting into a buttery crab cake can sometimes offer more fun and flavor than that other, more luxurious clawed ocean critter.

Beginning with an appetizer favorite, crab cakes have been a menu staple at restaurants for a long time. Stuffed with lump crab meat—hopefully—the dish is then pan or deep fried and usually served with a rémoulade or some other type of dipping sauce that pairs well with a butter-and-oil laden crab patty. Restaurants making waves with superior versions of this dish include Anchor Down Seafood and Grill in Merrick and Fisherman’s Catch in Point Lookout. Anchor Down’s version is indeed packed with jumbo lump crab and is pan fried for a golden exterior while sealing in the moist interior. It is served with an Old Bay rémoulade that boasts the immediately recognizable and classic flavor of the go-to crab seasoning.

Soft shell crab is in season at Bigelow’s (Photo source: Facebook)

Meanwhile, the Fisherman’s Catch serves a sautéed Maryland crab cake with a more deep-fried technique for a heftier crunch and is served with dynamic carrot cumin slaw and a salty caper rémoulade.

Staying in the realm of the deep-sea deep-fried, Bigelow’s in Rockville Centre—the all-time masters of the fried fish/seafood extravaganza—always grace their customers this time of year with soft shell crab. Currently hitting its seasonal peak, the soft shell crab is one of the most visually striking meals with its completely intact body hitting the fry oil and eventually your plate. Bigelow’s breading is light and crisp, and completely devoid of any unpleasant greasiness. From the claws, to the legs and finally the rich, oceanic body, the flavor on this specimen is perfect on its own or with a side of tarter sauce.

While Dungeness crab is certainly available at restaurants and fish markets on Long Island, it is a northern West Coast shellfish so prices around here can get a little steep. But if you have a hard time booking a trip to San Francisco, Portland or Seattle, it is worth a few extra bucks for this ocean dweller. With a tough shell and a maze of nooks and crannies, getting to the meat of a Dungeness can be hard work—but it is well worth all the cracking and effort. The stocky bruiser of the crab family, Dungeness is a meaty mouthful, with a nutty, wild flavor and seems to pair well with heavily spiced sauce blends.

For a dish along those lines, check out Ben’s Crab in Oceanside. Ben’s gives the eater a choice of sauce and spicy level for all their shellfish combinations—the Dungeness goes really well with their Ragin’ Lemon Pepper and Special Cajun Blend options. Eating a Dungeness can be a messy endeavor, so expect plenty of finger licking and a mountain of used napkins.

Finally, snow and king crab legs are perhaps the most popular, most ordered dishes from the crab world. Snow crab legs, served in leg and claw clusters, are known for their sweet and delicate flavor, with a slightly fibrous texture. These are typically served plain with a side of drawn butter and for good reason—snow crab marries beautifully with butter, but is just as delicious on its own. They are also fun to eat—a seriously seasoned eater can sit dissecting snow crab legs for hours, that is why this species is perfect for all-you-can-eat spectacles. And the place to go for eat-til-you-bust dinners is Popei’s in Bethpage. Tuesdays and Wednesdays boast specials where diners can sit and decimate the snow crab population for hours on end. And the jovial atmosphere at Popei’s adds to the crab-induced jubilation.

Meanwhile, Popei’s also presents king crabs to its devoted customers. The legendary, spike-covered leviathan of the Alaskan deep is notoriously difficult and deadly to catch and the market price certainly drives that point home, coming it at about $30 per pound. With a taste that neighbors somewhere between lobster and a giant prawn and a texture that is surprisingly reminiscent to coconut, king crab separates itself from other species with its subtle sweetness and gigantic claws filled with robust meat.

With its numerous species and varying shapes and sizes, anyway you crack it, crab is worth diving for this summer.

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Steve Mosco is editor-in-chief at Anton Media Group, editor of Plainview-Old Bethpage Herald and Levittown Tribune, and a columnist for Long Island Weekly's food and sports sections. He fancies himself a tastemaker, food influencer and king of all eaters.

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