When I can’t run away to the coast …
… the next-best thing is having the coast come to me – in the form of impeccably fresh seafood at my local farmers’ market.
And now it has, in the person of Scott Penter, an entrepreneurial young fisherman from Newport who’s invested in a state-of-the-art traveling seawater tank and chiller in hopes of expanding his market beyond the Newport docks.
I got a heads-up a couple of weeks ago from market manager Rebecca Landis that Scott had signed on to sell his catch at the Albany farmers’ market. As a passionate pescivore, I got very excited, and was crestfallen last weekend when he didn’t turn up. Communication problem, evidently, because he was there yesterday with his bright blue tank and a big sign proclaiming in red letters: LIVE CRAB.
Dungeness crab is at the top of my personal favorite seafood list, and Dungeness crab pulled out of the Pacific this morning, loaded into a tank full of chilled sea water and trucked over the Coast Range to what might as well be my front door is a wonderful thing, indeed. Especially this weekend: I’d spent Friday in Newport at a working meeting, and evening commitments drew me back inland long before I was ready to leave. Finding Scott and his rolling Seafood Outlet business at the market Saturday morning was pretty good compensation for not being able to spend the night at the coast.
So I watched (and shot pictures) as Scott fished a feisty four-pounder out of his tank, weighed it out and accepted my money, to the vast entertainment of a crowd of small children who materialized the minute Mr. Crab emerged from the tank.
In minutes, I was on my way home with a fairly irate crab in a sturdy plastic bag, which got deposited immediately in a sinkful of cold water while I put the kettle on to boil.
If you’re accustomed to buying your crab pre-killed, pre-cooked and served on a platter with a little lemon and a mess of melted butter, the thought of dealing with a live one, with all claws waving and trying to grab you, may be daunting. Me, I learned to kill crustaceans quite literally at my mother’s knee: we lived in Newfoundland when I was barely out of toddlerhood, and some of my earliest memories involve going out with my dad to buy live lobster straight from the fisherman, bringing them home and dumping them in the bathtub (where their scuttling greatly amused me and my little brother) and then watching my mom use long-handled tongs to transfer them into a giant pot of boiling water. Children are ruthless, and any trauma I might have suffered was quickly assuaged by the gustatory joy of eating lobster as the butter dripped down my chin.
I’ve grown up to be what I think of as an ethical omnivore; part of that includes not merely being aware of where my meat and seafood comes from, but being willing to deal with the bald fact that eating animals inevitably involves (someone) killing them.
If you don’t know what to do with a live crab, allow me to recommend Catching, Cleaning and Cooking Bay Crabs, a free, downloadable .pdf version of a publication from Oregon Sea Grant, which happens to be my employer. It includes instructions for killing and cleaning the crab before cooking, or (for the squeamish) cooking it first and then cleaning. The former process produces a superior result, in my opinion, and that’s what I did as soon as I got home from the market.
After chilling the cooked crab for a few hours, I hauled out the butter and lemons, some crusty, locally baked Italian bread and a bottle of crisp, fruity Evolution wine from Oregon’s Sokol Blosser winery. A simple salad of baby spinach and arugula from the market with a smidgen of Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue cheese crumbled over it and I had a fabulous hot-weather supper. Half a crab is plenty for me, so I got to repeat (and photograph) the experience for lunch today.
If you shop the Albany market, check Scott’s tank next weekend. He also sells albacore tuna he caught and had canned by one of our region’s specialty canners; ask him, and he can probably tell you where he caught the fish, how much it weighed and for all I know, what the weather was like. That’s one of the joys of buying locally: You’re not only getting great fresh food, but you can learn about it from the people who produced it. It puts us closer to the food chain, and may even make us more mindful about what we eat.
I know I was mindful of that crab. I even thanked him for feeding me before I turned him into dinner.