Monday, January 28, 2013

Super Bowl Column Made Me Crabby

Crab cakes for the Super Bowl. Photo by Valerie Phillips
Both the teams playing in this week's Super Bowl come from cities that are famous for crab. So in my Standard-Examiner column I suggested it would be appropriate to honor either the San Francisco 49-ers or the Baltimore Ravens with crab cakes, or the Golden Corn & Crab Chowder from my cookbook. 

In San Francisco, it's Dungeness crab, and in Baltimore, it's blue crab. Here in landlocked Utah, both are harder to find than Alaskan snow crab legs (popular at Sizzler, Red Lobster, and other chain restaurants). 

Dungeness crab was named after a fishing village in Washington state, and it’s found along the Pacific Coast from California to Alaska. Blue crab, found on the East Coast including Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, gets its name from its blue claws and oval, dark-blue-green shell. Both have smaller, less meaty legs than king or snow crab.  

While researching my column, I was able to find cooked, fresh Dungeness crab at Harmon's grocery store in Farmington. The only blue crab I could find in any grocery stores was the canned and packaged varieties, caught in places like Indonesia, Thailand, India and the Philippines.  That's pretty far from Maryland. 

I looked at the ingredients list of some ready-made crab cakes in the frozen foods aisle, and found that Great American Seafood brand's "restaurant quality crab cakes." The list starts with "imitation crabmeat" such as pollock, cod and/or whiting, and are seasoned with "artificial and natural crab flavors. Way down on the list (after celery) there's some actual crab meat. So there's more celery in the crab cakes than actual crab. There must be some loophole in the laws that allow companies to call a product something it's not.  You have to read the fine print to find out the truth. 

But I guess it's the thought that counts, not whether it's completely authentic Baltimore or San Francisco crab. But if you're paying out real crab prices and getting "krab" or "imitation whatever," there's a reason to feel pretty crabby about it.

As you might have guessed, I'm a crab fan.  A few years ago, I went to "Crab College," in conjunction with the Crab Festival taking place through February at the Market Street restaurants and fish markets.
I even received a diploma, a Certificate of Crabulation, that states that I'm now a scholar in "Arthropoda/Crustacea/Malacostraca/Decapoda/Pleocyemata/Brachyrua." It sounds like something the Wizard of Oz would bestow; but hey, I really did learn about the different types of REAL crab, and why it's so expensive. Crab fishing along the Northwest and Alaskan coasts is extremely dangerous. Fishermen get battered by freezing rain and icy waves.  It even makes this Utah's crazy snow, sleet and freezing temperatures seem tame by comparison. 

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