Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Dungeness Crab Mac and Cheese

Sustainable seafood issues have begun to hit the mainstream making my last year working on Good Fish seem more than time well spent and yet I'm still amazed at the abject resistance I'm seeing out there. Let's consider Nobu. Nobu, famous chef and restaurateur, has famously refused to pull bluefin tuna from his restaurants. I have no doubt that future generations will look back at folks serving bluefin tuna the way we might think of serving salt-encrusted Dodo bird at the local eatery just prior to its last breath on Earth. "I'll take my Dodo medium rare," you would say to the waiter in the 17th century, "I was reading on (insert Yelp in scroll format) that just prior to complete extinction, Dodo is Faaaa-bulous!"

On the one hand you have to sort of respect a chef who refuses to be swayed by facts, pickets and social pressure. On the other hand, you don't. In his "defense" he did concede to the pressure by putting a warning on his menus that - essentially - you really should avoid the fish because, you know, it may be among the last you ever see. That was big of him.

Whole Foods is currently dealing with a Nobu-esque issue, albeit from the other side of the ideological spectrum. I think Whole Foods is trying to do the right thing (whether purely from a bottom line standpoint or because someone(s) at corporate cares remains to be seen). They are rolling out a new sustainable seafood marketing program which includes, among other things, labeling to alert customers to the sustainability grade of the fish they are about to purchase. Interestingly, and this is where I'm reminded of Nobu's menu warnings, they are still selling red-dotted fish, essentially fish they know for sure are unsustainable, and yet will continue to do so until they phase it out in 2013.


It boggles the mind.

I'm not saying this issue is easy but one thing is for sure: if you know for a fact a type of seafood is in dire straits, why would you continue to sell or serve it? I have a few theories. For now, I'm going to go back to eating fish I know is good for me and good for the environment and educating you about which ones to eat and avoid. At the very least, Whole Foods will tell you that many of the fish they are selling are a really bad, bad choice - I just hope people remember that red means stop.

Photo by the lovely Clare Barboza, www.clarebarboza.com

Dungeness Crab Mac and Cheese
Sneak peak recipe from Good Fish: Sustainable Seafood Recipes from the Pacific Coast (Sasquatch Press, Released May 2011)

Serves 4-6

2 to 3 live Dungeness crabs
1 pound good-quality cheddar cheese (I like a mix of medium and sharp)
1 pound elbow or penne pasta
¼ cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
¼ cup minced shallots
¼ cup all-purpose flour
3 cups whole milk, cold
2 fresh bay leaves, or 1 dried
¼ teaspoon regular or smoked paprika
1/8 teaspoon saffron, mixed with 1 tablespoon hot water
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 cup panko
1 tablespoon (about one large lemon) freshly grated lemon zest
¼ cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
¼ cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease a 13-by-9-inch baking dish with butter. Fill the sink with ice water. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the crabs, and bring the water to a boil again. Cook the crabs for 14 to 18 minutes (I cook crabs that weigh around 2 pounds each, as most do, for about 14 minutes. Increase the cooking time by a few minutes if your crabs are larger.). While they cook, grate the cheddar and set aside. Pull the crabs out of the cooking water, reserving it, and chill them in the ice water in the sink. Strain the crab cooking water through a colander, return it to the pot, and bring it back to a boil.

In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter and add the shallots. Cook for 1 minute. Whisk in the flour gradually and reduce the heat to low. Keep cooking and stirring the roux until it starts to smell nutty, about 5 minutes. Gradually add the milk while continuing to stir. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the bay leaves, paprika, saffron, tomato paste, cayenne, and Dijon mustard. Simmer gently until the sauce is lightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Add the reserved cheese and cook until it has melted into the sauce. Taste for seasoning, cover, and set aside while you clean and crack the crab.

Cook the pasta until it is al dente, drain, and transfer to a bowl. Stir the pasta and crabmeat into the sauce. Put this heart-stoppingly delicious concoction into the baking dish. In a medium bowl, mix the panko with the lemon zest, parsley, and melted butter. Top the pasta with the panko mixture and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the mac-and-cheese is bubbly and browned on the top.

Pairing : A California chardonnay, such as Lioco 2007, Sonoma County, or a white Burgundy.


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