Last year, my husband
received a $300 travel voucher when he
was bumped from an overbooked flight.
Three hundred and
sixty-three days had gone by, and he
still hadn’t gotten around to using it.
Since it expired on the
365th (and since his job, meantime, had
sent him out of the country), I decided
to use the voucher to take myself to San
Francisco for lunch.
What a great way to spend
a Sunday. A friend picked me up at the
airport and we went straight to one of
my favorite Chinese restaurants, Ton
Kiang, for dim sum.
Then, because it would
have been a shame to have missed the
opportunity, we went to the Ferry
Building Marketplace, where I loaded up
I know, groceries. It was
pretty dorky, but I should say in my
defense that these were very good
groceries: excellent cheese, exotic
fresh mushrooms, Recchiuti chocolates,
pasta, wine and the kicker, crab.
No, I didn’t carry a live
Dungeness crab back on the airplane with
me (though I contemplated it).
Instead, my friend tipped
me off that the San Francisco Fish
Company will quarter and clean your crab
for you — if you ask.
I did. Problem solved:
freshly cooked crab at home without
having to worry about keeping the poor
guy, er, respirating.
The classic San Francisco
crab dish is cioppino, a brothy,
tomato-based seafood stew that closely
resembles Mediterranean bouillabaisse.
The San Francisco Seafood
Company sells its own frozen cioppino
base, and I used a container of this
both as an icepack and in the cioppino I
made back home.
It was pretty good, and
certainly convenient. But I still think
cioppino is better made from scratch.
If you’d like to give it
a whirl, you can find live crabs at the
Asian market Lee Lee, on the northeast
corner of Warner and Dobson roads in
Chandler. Choose big, healthy, lively
ones; two crabs will make cioppino for
I’m not sure if the
market will clean and quarter your crabs
for you, but it’s pretty easy to cook
live crabs at home: simply submerge in
plenty of boiling water for about seven
minutes per pound.
To check for doneness,
twist a leg from its body; the flesh
should be white and firm. Rinse the
crabs under cold running water and, for
the purpose of this recipe, remove and
retain the legs (cleaning the body is a
bit more involved).
Of course, you can also
buy precooked crab legs from places like
Whole Foods. In any event, whether your
legs are raw or cooked, divide them into
segments that will be easy to crack at
For the cioppino, warm
1/4 cup olive oil in a large pot over
medium heat. Add and sauté one cup each
of finely chopped onion, celery and bell
pepper. A few minutes later, throw in
four finely minced garlic cloves, 1/2
teaspoon dried oregano and 1/2 teaspoon
red pepper flakes. (You can also add 1/2
cup of sliced mushrooms, if you’d like.)
When the vegetables are
soft, add 4 cups of fish stock or water
(or three cups of water and one cup of
clam juice). Stir in two 14-ounce cans
of crushed tomatoes, one cup of red wine
and one teaspoon of salt. Simmer for 30
Just before you’re ready
to serve, stir in one and a half pounds
of your choice of seafood: peeled raw
shrimp, cubed white fish fillets, clams,
mussels, scallops, squid or a mixture of
any of the above.
If you bought your crab
cleaned and quartered, stir in the
uncooked leg segments here, too. If your
crab is already cooked, wait until the
rest of the seafood is almost done to
add it to the pot; it should just have
time to heat through.
Serve the cioppino
immediately with sourdough bread, and be
prepared to get a little messy eating
And should you crave cioppino in situ?
Well, San Francisco’s just a short