Lithograph of a crab with ocean in the background
MacGregor Campbell / OPB

Superabundant

Superabundant dispatch: Dungeness crab — and new videos — are now in season

By Heather Arndt Anderson (OPB)
Jan. 20, 2023 2 p.m.

Superabundant launches season 2 with brand new videos and a special guest chili crab recipe

Editor’s note: OPB’s video series “Superabundant” explores the stories behind the foods of the Pacific Northwest. Now we’re taking the same guiding principles to a new platform: Email. We’ve brought on food writer Heather Arndt Anderson, a Portland-based culinary historian and ecologist, to highlight different aspects of the region’s food ecosystem every week. This week she’s pleased to share a brand new episode of Superabundant — Dungeness crab.

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At long last, it’s a new season of OPB’s award-winning video series, “Superabundant.” It’s also a new season for Oregon’s favorite shellfish and official state crustacean: Dungeness crab. After a six-week delay due to low meat yields and high levels of domoic acid, the crab fishery has finally reopened. Domoic acid is dangerous for us because its structure resembles one of the human body’s own amino acids — do you know which one? Read on to find out!

The lucky rabbit leaps into the New Year, bird flu puts a pall on weekend brunch, and how protecting forests in Oregon can help the whole world.

Freshly picked morsels from the Pacific Northwest food universe:

The Year of the Rabbit begins on Jan. 22.

We’ll have loads of Lunar New Year content next week, but meanwhile enjoy the festive Singapore chili crab recipe at the end of this week’s newsletter. China’s public holiday lasts for seven days, but the celebrations continue for 16 days, ending with the Lantern Festival on Feb. 5. This gives us plenty of time to enjoy lucky foods like longevity noodles and whole fish.

Breakfast: the most expensive meal of the day?

Back in October, we reported that the price of eggs was climbing sky high, an issue that doesn’t seem to be abating any time soon. Why are eggs, of all things, getting so expensive? It’s not just the usual pandemic supply chain issues, and inflation alone can’t be blamed. The U.S. is still reeling from the worst avian flu outbreak in history; the disease killed more than a million laying hens in Washington alone last December. Omelet lovers, take heart: Prices are already beginning to drop, and backyard flocks will likely pick up laying again soon as days get longer.

Oregon’s forests can help the whole country.

According to a new paper in the scientific journal Frontiers in Forests and Global Change, Oregon’s forests are unique — we have the most total forest area and carbon in live tree biomass in the western United States, but only 10% of that forest land is protected as wilderness areas or nature reserves (the Coast Range has the lowest amount of protection than any other forest ecoregions). The study, conducted by a team of experts led by Beverly Law at Oregon State University, identified the highest-priority areas for protection: setting aside these areas ensures the greatest long-term benefits for water quality, carbon sequestration, and global biodiversity. Most of these lands are federally owned, which will hopefully remove one more barrier from protecting these lands for the good of the public.

A new season of Dungeness crab — and the Superabundant video series — is upon us

Gird yourselves: At long last, Superabundant is back with the first episode of season 2, all about our official state crustacean: Dungeness crab. Born of the sea and raised by the winds, these majestic purple crustaceans have scuttled their way right into our hearts.

You might’ve heard in recent news that the crabbing season was delayed this year; OPB reporter (and Superabundant narrator) Crystal Ligori reported just this week that the season was finally opened after a six-week delay. Yet the 2021-22 crab season was phenomenally good — 17 millions pounds of crab raked in $91.5 million. What was different this year?

In November, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) made the difficult decision to postpone the Dungeness season, usually beginning on Dec. 1, because crab samples showed a low meat yield, which would mean a lot of unsatisfied consumers.

Related: How valuable, and volatile, crabbing can be along the Oregon Coast

More importantly, however, was the very real risk of amnesic shellfish poisoning, or domoic acid toxicosis. You may have heard about the dangers of “red tides” and eating clams or oysters in the off-season, and this is a similar phenomenon. Domoic acid is a toxin produced by marine diatoms (Pseudo-nitzschia; a type of phytoplankton) that can experience a population explosion, or “bloom” in response to warming waters and other climatic changes favorable to their growth.

We don’t eat plankton, so how is this bad for people? Domoic acid bioaccumulates in sea life, becoming more concentrated and hazardous as it moves up the food chain. Since Dungeness crab are scavengers, they can consume enough toxin to pose a real risk to the humans who eat them. Domoic acid binds to the brain’s glutamate receptors, causing neurological problems like confusion, dizziness, seizures, and even coma.

We’d rather activate our glutamate receptors with a big bowl of instant ramen than toxic shellfish, but maybe that’s just us.

After last year’s crab boom, this year’s setbacks seem especially heartbreaking, but Oregon’s commercial crabbers are a resilient lot who know their livelihoods are a gamble. Get to know them better and hear from experts on the fascinating lives of Dungeness crabs — and watch the latest episode of Superabundant.

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Recipe: Sibeiho OMG! Sambal Singapore Chili Crab

Singapore chili crab prepared by Sibeiho co-founder Holly Ong

Singapore chili crab prepared by Sibeiho co-founder Holly Ong

Courtesy of Sibeiho / Kara Stokes

This week’s recipe comes from Sibeiho cofounder Holly Ong, who takes a casual approach to cooking the foods from her native Singapore. The key here is to not worry too much about exact measurements or specific technique — just cook based on your senses. Watch Holly preparing this dish in the Dungeness crab episode of Superabundant (Season 2, Episode 1).

This dish is a balance of sweet/sour/spicy plus the umami taste of the sea from fresh crabs. At Sibeiho, we only cook with live crabs. But we understand that not all of us have access to amazing Pacific Northwest live crabs at our local market. So the next best thing is cooked crabs from the market, it won’t have as much umami but it will still be yum.

NOTE: You’ll be cooking over high heat so make sure all ingredients are on hand and ready to use before you get started.

#1 Hack ratio: One jar of OMG! Sambal to one Dungeness crab

#2 Hack ratio: Use approximately 1 ½ cups of canned tomato sauce (the kind for pasta) if you don’t want to make from scratch. Have tomato paste on standby too.

#3 Hack ratio: About 4 eggs per crab. Beat the eggs in bowl and set aside. Sometimes I add more because the eggs are smaller or the crabs release more liquid when they cook.


Ingredients

1 Dungeness crab, preferably live approx. 2 lbs.

1 jar Sibeiho OMG! Sambal

2 tbsp vegetable oil, (canola, avocado, and grapeseed are all ok)

4″ knob fresh ginger, peeled and julienned

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 ½ cup tomato sauce (preferably homemade)

1 ½ tbsp white distilled vinegar or rice vinegar (the kind for sushi)

1 tsp sugar

¼ cup Shaoxing wine

Eggs

Fish sauce to taste (optional)

Cilantro for scent & garnishing


Instructions:

  1. Steam and clean the crabs, then cut them into 4-6 pieces when they’re cool enough to handle. Reserve the steam water from cooking the crabs.
  2. Heat the oil in a wok (or deep sided saucepan) over high heat until a wisp of smoke forms. Pour in the entire jar of OMG! Sambal and add the ginger. Stir fry till the sambal caramelizes and darkens more. Add the garlic and stir fry until fragrant, about 1 or 2 minutes.
  3. Next add the tomato sauce and cook until everything is bubbling. This is when you add the vinegar and sugar to taste.
  4. If the mixture looks too thick, add a bit of the crab steam water. If it’s too runny, stir in a spoonful of tomato paste. You need the consistency of pasta pomodoro sauce before you add the crab in and put the lid on. The crab should cook in about 5-8 min.
  5. Half way thru, stir the crabs to coat all of it with the gravy. Add the Shaoxing wine here. Just before the crabs are cooked, pour eggs into mix, circling the entire wok. Resist the urge to stir. Wait for the eggs to start cooking and then stir, it’s a scrambled eggs in tomato sauce consistency you’re looking for.
  6. Taste at this stage to see if you need fish sauce. Usually the crab and crab water will add enough umami salt you don’t need to add any. Then all that’s left is to plate, garnish with cilantro and enjoy!

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How Oregon Dungeness crab make the journey from sea to table.

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