'Tis the Season for Dungeness Crab

Categories: Sausalito
800px-Cancer_magister.jpgDungeness crab season is here, and although I love the sublime simplicity of boiled cracked crab with a crisp green salad, a yeasty, robust sourdough and beakers of Anchor Steam, I'm not averse to crabmeat enchiladas oozing with Monterey jack and salsa verde, Dungeness crab cakes spiked with scallions and touched with a subtle aioli, hot crab roasted in its shell with plenty of garlic, crab chowder fragrant with onions and bacon, crab hash with leeks, potatoes, peppers and a poached egg on top, and how about good old crabmeat cocktail layered with avocado and doused in a horseradish-y salsa? Best of all, though, may be cioppino.

Cioppino has been around since the first Italian fisherfolk arrived here during the Gold Rush and realized that there was a lot more lucre to be mined in the hungry and burgeoning city of San Francisco than in the foothills of the Sierra. Adapting the Mediterranean seafood stews of the Old Country to accommodate the natural larder of San Francisco Bay, they came up with a fragrant, garlicky, tomato-rich potpourri brimming with prawns, mussels, clams, scallops and our very own Cancer magister. Like the martini, Hangtown Fry, crab Louis and other local creations, cioppino endures to this day, warming the souls and bellies of the winter-bound and earning praise as "the finest regional dish in America" by Esquire's notoriously finicky food maven Roy Andries de Groot.

There's no one standard cioppino recipe; its preparation varies with mood and month and what's at hand or in the market. (When I was a kid we used to prepare for a cioppino feast with a foray to Caruso's, the late great Sausalito fish purveyor; today Caruso's has morphed into Fish, which is not only an exemplary seafood restaurant but an excellent option for acquiring really fresh Dungeness to boot.) But if you don't want to go to the trouble of cooking up a pot yourself, Tadich Grill and Duarte's just down the coast in Pescadero offer terrific bowls.

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