Last year’s Dungeness crab season all but evaporated due to the crabs’ increased levels of domoic acid, a naturally occurring neurotoxin that’s harmful when consumed in high amounts. This year, the season was given the go-ahead and opened in mid-November.
One of the places you can purchase Dungeness crab is at Pier 46 Seafood in Templeton. Launched in 2008, the market/restaurant is owned and operated by Tony DeGarimore, Eric Gonzales and their families. Here, DeGarimore answers some questions about the West Coast’s iconic and indigenous crab.
Q: What sets Dungeness crab apart from other crab?
A: It’s my favorite crab. Maybe because it’s what I was raised on (in Morro Bay) — just like people from the East Coast prefer blue crab. I think Dungeness has the best balance, though. It’s got great taste; it’s easy to remove the meat and yet still affordable.
Q: What is the approximate duration of the West Coast Dungeness crab season?
A: It used to be fairly consistent, from Nov. 15 to the end of July. Now, it’s opening and closing in different areas based on a lot of different factors. They (state fish and wildlife departments) have got to protect the resource, but they do a good job most years of helping us have a consistent supply of product.
Q: What qualifies as local Dungeness crab here on the Central Coast?
A: For me, if anything’s caught between Santa Barbara and Monterey, it’s local. In terms of Dungeness, you won’t be getting anything south of Point Conception anyway, so it’s mainly San Luis Obispo County.
Q: How do you source your crab, and your other seafood?
A: People ask me that a lot — the answer is really in two parts. First, we’re a licensed seafood buyer; that means we can — and do — buy directly from fishermen. We buy as much as we can from local fishermen. They’ll dock, put their boats on a trailer, drive here and we’ll unload the catch in the parking lot.
Also, Eric’s (Gonzales) and my expertise is in sourcing seafood from all over the world. We both grew up in the seafood industry, so the kind of expertise we have is invaluable. We have relationships in the industry we’ve had our whole lives, so we’re usually sourcing directly from people we know, from local to international.
Q: Steaming and boiling are the classic ways to prepare Dungeness crab. Which do you prefer?
A: I like to boil it, just adding salt to the water. There’s really no downside to it being submerged, and the salted water adds to the flavor a bit. Also, the crab is cooking in its own juices, so the water becomes like a stock.
Q: What’s the secret to great crab cakes?
A: It really is all about the crab, using good crab. We (at Pier 46) use Dungeness and blue crab in ours, and we make them from scratch — like everything we do here, from our sauces to our cioppino.
Q: How do you sell your crab – live, cleaned, cooked?
A: Some of our customers get it live and cook it at home, but we can do whatever people want. We can clean the crab, so people can boil it at home. Or we’ll go ahead and do everything — referred to as “cooked, cracked and cleaned.” I think it’s a better product, though, if you’re cracking the crab right as you’re eating it.
Q: Do you have any general tips for people who might be apprehensive about cooking seafood at home?
A: My advice would be to not overcomplicate it. Usually just some salt, pepper, a little seasoning and olive oil will be enough.
If it’s fresh, quality product, you don’t have to disguise anything. Let the fish’s own flavor come through.
Also, I’d encourage people who think they don’t like fish to give (Pier 46) a try. To say you don’t like seafood is eliminating a big category of food. There are so many kinds to try that we can usually find something you’ll like. That’s another thing Eric and I share — our passion in educating people about seafood.
Katy Budge is a freelance writer from Atascadero. Contact her at email@example.com.
Pier 46 Seafood
1131 Rossi Road, Templeton (in the Trader Joe’s shopping center)
Hours: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
The scene: A fish market combined with a small restaurant that offers food-to-go or meals to enjoy outside on the patio or at a few inside tables.
The cuisine: Ocean-fresh fish is the focus. Other options include salads, veggie quesadillas and chicken strips.
Expect to spend: Most entrée items about $10 to $15.