GET A LIT­TLE CRABBY

BIG CRUS­TACEANS TAKE A BITE OUT OF THE BUD­GET BUT DON’T QUIB­BLE, JUST NIB­BLE

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Go Eat - By Jen­nifer Biggs

/ biggs@com­mer­cialap­peal.com

THIS IS AN UN­USUAL RE­VIEW in that it’s not of a restau­rant, but of a spe­cific meal. The whole king crab at The Blue Fish now through the next cou­ple of months is such a treat that keep­ing it from you would be cruel.

This is the third year The Blue Fish has pur­chased fresh king crab from a bro­ker who pro­cures them from boats in Alaska — yes, this is the stuff of TV’s “Dead­li­est Catch.” A lucky break has al­lowed the restau­rant to get the mas­sive crabs in this year a cou­ple of weeks be­fore the full sea­son be­gins, and sales are brisk.

Last year, 112 whole crabs were sold at the restau­rant over a two-month pe­riod. By the time you read this, at least 74 will have been con­sumed in just about two weeks.

At $240 a pop and in this econ­omy, that’s got to tell you some­thing. If you’ve only eaten frozen crab — and while I’ve eaten plenty of king crab over the years, I’d never had it fresh un­til a few days ago — you’ll find the dif­fer­ence re­mark­able.

But first, to the ex­pe­ri­ence. You’ve got to call ahead and re­serve your crab, and re­mem­ber, the crabs have to be caught be­fore they can be shipped, so you might plan to eat on a Thurs­day and have to resched­ule for a

Fri­day. Stay flex­i­ble.

Th­ese crabs weigh roughly 6 to 9 pounds (and feed four to six peo­ple), so they make for an im­pres­sive dis­play when stretched across the server’s tray.

Salad and sides come with the crab, and while I’m tempted to clas­sify them sim­ply as “not crab,” they do de­serve men­tion.

A nice house salad of mixed baby greens topped with carrot shreds and sun­flower seeds comes with house-made dress­ing of choice and a bas­ket of hearty, crusty bread. It was tasty enough that I ate it all, even though my long-held rule when eat­ing crab is that ev­ery­thing else is filler and should be avoided.

A corkscrew pasta tossed in a light vodka cheese sauce and a plat­ter of ex­cel­lent as­para­gus, sauteed and run un­der a broiler with a bit of Parme­san on top, came next. You take a bit for your plate and then the dishes go away to make room for the guest of honor (if you want more, just ask).

When the crab comes, it’s pre­sented in great glory — legs fully ex­tended, propped up on a plate. The server de­taches the legs and places them, steam­ing hot, on the ta­ble. I was de­lighted to see kitchen shears de­liv­ered to each guest; this is how we tackle crab legs at home and it makes the job eas­ier than us­ing crack­ers or pickers, both gen­er­ally use­less tools in my opin­ion.

Your server might of­fer to ex­tract your crab meat for you. But come on — you can do this your­self. While the server is work­ing on the body of the crab, get­ting the lump meat ready, grab a leg (use your nap­kin, be­cause it’s hot) and get to work.

The leg has three sec­tions. Grab at the joint be­tween the two largest pieces and gen­tly bend back­wards un­til it breaks. Sep­a­rate by gen­tly pulling the pieces apart, which will pull out the car­ti­lage and leave the meat in­tact.

Pick up the largest piece, grab your shears, in­sert a blade in the open­ing and cut along the in­side, or the soft­est side, of the shell. Pry the shell open along the cut and ex­tract the meat.

Now, don’t touch that but­ter. We’ll get to that, but be­fore you even think about dip­ping, pull off a piece of that lus­cious crab and put it in your mouth. I prom­ise you, it will be the most ten­der piece of shell­fish you’ve ever tasted.

The word that keeps com­ing to mind is soft. The great­est dif­fer­ence be­tween this crab, just a few days out of the wa­ter and never frozen, and all the other king crab I’ve eaten is the tex­ture. While clearly sub­stan­tial, it’s al­most vel­vety in the mouth. The meat comes apart length­wise in suc­cu­lent strips, not in cross­wise lumps or stringy shreds. Sa­vor ev­ery bite.

I put lemon in my but­ter, which is avail­able for the ask­ing. But the meat was so fresh, clean and pure that I ate most of it plain.

The lump crab meat was easy to get to, and plen­ti­ful.

Four of us ate the crab, which our server said was ap­proach­ing seven pounds, and there was one leg left. That was just about be­ing po­lite, as no one wanted to leave that leg — I tried to wran­gle one of those “eat the whole thing and get it free” of­fers from gn­eral man­ager David Mere­deth, but didn’t suc­ceed.

This is a spe­cial event, some­thing any­one who loves crab and can af­ford it should plan to do ev­ery year. When the sea­son is over (and that varies, de­pend­ing on when the al­lot­ment is har­vested), it’s frozen crab for an­other year.

Know­ing the dif­fer­ence — hav­ing tasted it — makes the crab at The Blue Fish all the sweeter.

Pho­tos by Brad Lut­trell/Spe­cial to The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal

David Mered­ith (left), gen­eral man­ager of The Blue Fish restau­rant in Cooper Young, de­liv­ers a whole 6-pound king crab to a ta­ble on Tues­day night. The fresh crabs from Alaskan wa­ters should be avail­able at the restau­rant into De­cem­ber, for about $240.

King crabs are an an­nual, sea­sonal plate full at The Blue Fish restau­rant. One crab will feed four to six peo­ple.

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