Dungeness crab is Oregon's culinary gift

If you're looking for one more thing to celebrate as we welcome 2011, then lets talk crab.

It's been a good couple of years for the Oregon Dungeness crab industry. In May 2009, the Dungeness crab became the official state crustacean. It's not easy becoming an official "state" anything — just ask the folks behind the Marionberry who had their hopes dashed by, well, another berry when legislation to confer that distinction was in its home stretch.

But the state's Dungeness crab had a powerful lobby: the fourth-grade class at Sunset Primary School in West Linn. Those kids were relentless, passing out brochures, making speeches and just being tenacious, little fourth-graders. When the bill passed the House in April 2009, the Dungeness Crab Commission handed out crab cocktails in plastic Champagne glasses to celebrate.

Then the bill skated through the Senate on a 23-2 vote. The most vocal holdout was Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, a Republican from John Day, who believed the "state crustacean" honor should go to Senate President Peter Courtney, a Salem Democrat.

But I'm not going there.

Then just a few weeks ago, another honor was bestowed upon our state crustacean — or at least the industry that brings it closer to our kitchens. Oregon's Dungeness crab fishery earned certification from the Marine Stewardship Council. As an independent, nonprofit organization, the council's goal is to reward sustainable fishing practices around the world.

It's a global recognition that shows the Oregon crab industry's commitment to harvesting crabs in the most environmentally sustainable manner, which has maintained healthy and robust stock. It's not recognition given lightly.

Oregon's Dungeness crab fishery is one of only three crab fisheries in the world to receive stewardship-council certification. The distinction also is unique among the five Dungeness fisheries on the West Coast, which include California, Washington, British Columbia and Alaska.

So yet another reason to support the state's most valuable single-species fishery. As if you needed an excuse to indulge in one of winter's most delectable culinary gifts.

My hands-down favorite way to enjoy Dungeness crab is straight out of a pot where it's been boiled just long enough to cook the juicy, tender morsels of meat locked inside that crusty, hard-shell exterior.

So a crab feed for New Year's Eve it is! I usually support such simplicity with an equally simple set of side dishes: a big, ol' crunchy, green salad, for example, chock-full of fresh veggies and a zesty dressing. Or sometimes a richly flavored coleslaw layered with other Pacific Northwest delights, such as richly toasted hazelnuts and local smoky bacon. Something like that, along with some fresh artisan bread, and you're truly set to ring in the new year.

Have a happy one. And bon appetit.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, cookbook author and artist. Readers can contact her by e-mail at janrd@proaxis.com or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.

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