From Bycatch to Center of the Plate: Jonah Crab

Crabs live all over the world, and the number of crab species in existence reaches about 4500. Those that are edible have strong followings all over the world such as the Stone Crab, Dungeness Crab, King Crab, and Blue Crab. Here in New England, we focus on the Jonah Crab which is medium-sized and contains some of the sweetest meat around.

The Jonah Crab's habitat stretches from the icy waters of Northeastern Canada all the way down to the Carolinas.  The majority of its landings are in Prince Edward Island, Maine, and Rhode Island. In the past, these crabs were discarded as a by-catch of lobstering. Once the demand for the crabs increased, a devoted fishery was created. The harvesters began to catch the crabs in increased numbers using baited pots as they did in fishing lobsters.

The crabs follow a similar seasonality to lobster: they are at their best in the colder months. The colder water concentrates the natural sugars in the meat to give you a sweet and succulent bite. Its flavor is sweet like Pacific Dungeness crab with the firm yet delicate texture of the Florida Stone Crab. What is special about the Jonah is that the meat can be displayed and processed in many ways. Here are some popular products that are available both fresh and frozen:

Cap Off claws

Cap Off claws

Cocktail Claws:

These ready to eat morsels are comprised of just the claw with the ‘cap’ or base of the claw removed. The top of the claw, where the pincers are, is kept on to maintain the structure of the meat. These are most commonly served on their own with cocktail sauce or an aioli.

Empress Claws:

Like the cap off claws but more of the shell is removed leaving just one pincer on for an elegant display. These are often served on their own or even as a part of an impressive shellfish tower.

Triple score claws

Triple score claws

Triple Score Claws:

These include the whole arm with slits scored into the shell for you pop them open yourself. Some of the best meat is in those arm sections! These are served their own, or can be used as toppers to large bowls of shellfish stew.

All Leg Meat

All Leg Meat

All Leg Meat:

This is exactly what it sounds like, meat from the legs of the crab. This is picked from the shell by way of meticulous hand picking or via air hoses that force the meat out. This is the best option for elegant garnishes or as additions to pastas.

Combo Meat: 60% body meat and 40% leg meat.

The meat that comes from the body in smaller pieces and is either picked by hand or processed by machine which is mixed with large chunks from the legs. This is perfect for fillings and crab cakes.


Crab muscle structure is not that different than human muscles

Crab muscle structure is not that different than human muscles

Fresh vs. Frozen

Since both fresh and frozen crab are available on the market, what is the difference between the two? First, we need to go into what happens to the meat (apart from the shell) during the freezing process. Crab muscle structure is a lot like ours with bands of filaments held together by proteins. These proteins allow the muscle to move by sliding over one another powered by the enzymes actin and myosin. Think of actin and myosin as lubricants that help the muscle filaments slide over each other. When muscles freeze, they will expand, pulling apart the filaments and denaturing the actin first and then the myosin. When the meat thaws, the muscle will contract again, but the denatured enzymes will leak out of the muscle fibers as they are not able to adhere to anything. Without the aid of the enzymes, the meat will appear to be drier thawed versus frozen.

Crab in the shell is frozen with the aid of a glaze, which is a layer of ultra-cooled water that freezes on contact. This protects the meat and allows the crab to thaw quickly and evenly. Crab out of the shell is frozen in small batches in their own containers. Thawing should take place slowly in a fridge overnight. If the thawing process is rushed, the crab can lose more moisture creating an almost rubbery texture. There will still be some moisture loss, but not as much if the crab was not glazed.

An untrained eye may not be able to detect much of a change as this reaction is slight and the muscle fibers of the crab are not as compact as other animals (shown side-by-side below). To the connoisseur, frozen is a different game than fresh, but both have a prominent place in crab-loving dishes.

Fresh (l) and tHAWED (r)

Fresh (l) and tHAWED (r)

For fresh crab, it is best used in cold applications and areas where the crab will be served as the highlight of the dish. Being able to bite into a large, sweet, moist chunk of crab is a delight and it should be the freshest and brightest texture of all. Some examples of classic uses include Crab Louis salad, with fresh pasta, or as a garnish to a crab bisque.

For frozen, it is best used in fillings, cakes, and other hot preparations. The addition of other ingredients will help some of the meat’s natural sweetness come through, and the meat’s drier texture will help in the binding process (just make sure it is well drained first!). As for fresh or frozen claws, both can be consumed in the same way without much of a difference in taste, but the fresh will be sweeter. The advantage of using frozen is that you can depend on a long shelf life and have them at the ready. Just make sure you give them the time they need to thaw properly.

Looking to branch out into crab? Call us for products available and our ordering schedule.

#eatmorecrab

Recipe: Meyer Lemon and Black Pepper Cavatelli with Crab and Winter Vegetables

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Serves 2-4

I debated putting this recipe out there as my cavatelli recipe is not usually measured, but rather made by the feel of the dough. If you do not want to dive into making your own, you can find cavatelli shaped pasta in the refrigerated section if your grocery store or in boxes with the rest of the dried pasta. This recipe also uses raw winter vegetables to give it a fresh crunch that I miss in the colder months.

For the cavatelli:

6 oz fresh ricotta cheese (do not drain off any excess liquid)
1 egg plus one yolk
‘00’ flour (use All Purpose Flour if ‘00’ is not available)
Black pepper, freshly ground
2 Meyer lemons, zested and separated

4oz All Leg Jonah Crabmeat
1 large golden beet, sliced paper thin (raw)
½ c purple cauliflower, cut into small crowns (raw)

In a mixer, whip the ricotta until it is light and fluffy. Using the dough hook, mix in the eggs, half the zest, and about 1t if black pepper. Slowly add in flour until everything is combined and the dough does not stick to the sides of the mixing bowl. The dough should spring back when poked. If this does not happen, mix with the dough hook for another few minutes. Cover the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead for a few turns. With a rolling pin, flatten the dough until it is about ¼ in thick. Cut the dough into ½ in wide strips and feed through a cavatelli press. If you do not have a cavatelli press, chop the strips into small rectangles and roll off the back of a for to achieve a similar aesthetic.

Boil the pasta in lightly salted water until the individual pieces float. Once all pieces are floating, strain and place into two heated bowls, garnish with the rest of the zest, the vegetables, crab, and a healthy dose of olive oil and black pepper.

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Recipe: Kale Salad with Jonah Crab and Avocado Dressing

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Just because it is winter does not mean we can’t have things that are fresh and green. This hearty salad features the Cara Cara and Blood oranges, two very sweet and unique types of citrus that keep things hot in the colder months.

Serves 2

3 oz Jonah all leg crabmeat
¼ # cippolini onions
1 package baby kale, washed
1/2 cup raw shaved fennel
2 blood oranges, segmented
1 Cara Cara orange, segmented
4T pine nuts, toasted

Dressing:

1 small avocado, diced
2 T Honey
1 lemon, juiced
¼ c chopped parsley
Olive Oil
Salt

Coat the cippolini onions in olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast the onions in a 375 F oven until caramelized. Set aside and allow to cool.

To make the dressing, place half of the avocado, honey, lemon juice, parsley and a pinch of salt into a blender and puree until smooth. If the mixture is not blending, add water until it is smooth and the consistency of yogurt. If the mixture is too loose or watery, blend in more avocado. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil until it is mixed completely. Set aside.

Arrange the kale, orange segments, fennel and onions on two plates. Garnish with the pine nuts and serve the dressing on the side. If you did not use all of the avocado in the dressing, add that to the plates as well.

Recipe: Miso Crab Udon

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The finger limes in this recipe are a real specialty item and can be hard to find. If they are not available anywhere near you, use segments from a small lime. Just a little bit goes a long way as you do not want to combat the robust miso and the delicate crab.

Serves 2

4 oz Jonah all leg meat
3t HonDashi
2T Miso paste (shiro)
2 servings Udon noodles – cooked (follow package instructions)

For Garnish:
Shaved baby bella mushrooms
Sliced scallions
Radish sprouts
Sliced red Fresno peppers (optional)
2 finger limes, cleaned

In a small saucepot, bring 3 cups of water to simmer. Whisk in the hondashi and let it simmer for one minute to dissolve. Whisk in the miso paste until it is dissolved and set aside, keeping it warm.

Put one serving of udon each in two warmed bowls. Arrange on the top of the noodles the mushrooms, scallions and sprouts (and fresno peppers if you like it spicy).

Serve the bowls, pouring the broth over the garnishes. Finish with finger lime arils (caviar-like pods of the lime).

Recipe: Crab Rangoon That Doesn't Suck

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Crab Rangoon is always the guilty pleasure of any Chinese takeout order, but I always want to it taste differently than it does. What does it need? Some lime? Fresh Crab? Yes! Here, our crab is the main ingredient with just enough cream cheese to help bind it. The lime and lime leaves give it a bright pop and help the crab remain as sweet as candy.

Serves 4 or 1 very hungry person

1 package of round wonton wrappers

8 oz. Jonah Combo Crabmeat
6 oz. whipped cream cheese
1 large shallot - minced
2 large scallions, sliced finely
3 large lime leaves, sliced finely
1 lime – zested and juiced
1 t fish sauce

Sweet chili sauce for dipping 

Combine all the ingredients except for the wrappers in a bowl and fold gently, making sure there are still some large chunks of crab visible. Taste to make sure the seasoning is to your liking. You may need to add more lime or a bit of salt according to your tastes.

Lay out the wrappers 6 at a time, keeping the rest in an airtight container or zip top bag. Place about a tablespoon of the crab mix in the center of each wrapper. Using your finger, wet the edges with water and then fold into a half moon.

In a large, deep skillet, heat about a half inch of canola oil to 350F. Fry the Rangoon in batches, cooking each side until the skins reach a golden brown. Serve immediately with the sweet chili sauce.

Recipe: Jonah Crab Dip

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This recipe started out as an indulgent snack in my early fish mongering days. I would take home a tub of crab meat, mix it with lemon, mayo, pepper and consume it with wavy potato chips. Now, I bring you version 2.0!

Serves 4 or 1 very ambitious crab lover

8 oz Jonah Combo Crabmeat
1/8 t. sriracha
4 oz mayo (Duke’s is the preferred brand)
1 large lemon; zest and juice
1 small shallot minced
1 T parsley, minced

Chips – I like a hearty crinkle cut salt and pepper chip, but something fancier will work too

Combine the crab, sriracha, and mayo in a bowl, making sure that there are still some large chunks of crab visible.

Fold in a splash of lemon juice and the zest, then taste for adjustment. The mix may need salt at this point.

Fold in the parsley and let the mix meld in the refrigerator for 30 minutes prior to serving. Serve with chips and enthusiasm

Linguine with Uni and Meyer Lemon

The temperatures of the waters in Maine have gotten colder lending way to some of the most delicious shellfish of the season. Urchins are available, but not many know how to clean it or cook it other than sushi preparations. Here is one of my favorite ways to eat those tender little orange chunks of sweet sea butter – with some lemon and some really good pasta! We use cultured butter in this recipe because it has a sweet and sour taste (not unlike yogurt) to give a well balanced juxtaposition to the richness of the uni.

Linguine with Uni and Meyer Lemon

Ingredients

Serves 2 (main course) or 4 (appetizer)

  • Uni from 3 large green urchin (ours came from Maine)

  • ½ lb fresh Linguine (dried is also acceptable if fresh is not available)

  • 1 stick unsalted cultured butter

  • 1 Meyer Lemon, sliced into rounds, seeds removed

  • 1 large shallot, minced

  • 2 T parsley, chopped finely

  • Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Boil lightly salted water for pasta

  2. In a cast iron skillet, brown 1 t. of butter with a pinch of salt and half of the minced shallots. Once the butter is browned, add in the lemon slices in one layer. Cook the slices on medium high heat until the lemons have browned and caramelized – a little black is just fine. Remove the slices from the pan and allow to cool. Chop finely and set aside.

  3. In a small saucepot, simmer just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan by ¼ inch. Slowly whisk in the butter, one chunk at a time. The mixture should have one color and consistency, making sure that it does not break (if it breaks, the pasta will be greasy and unappealing). Once all of the butter is incorporated, move to a warm surface, like that back of the stove top.

  4. In a skillet, warm ½ of the liquid butter, the rest of the shallots, lemons, salt, pepper, and ¾ of the uni. Mix well, chopping up the uni lobes into smaller chunks. Toss in the pasta to coat well. Add the remaining uni to the remaining liquid butter. Plate the pasta in two bowls, topping with the held liquid butter and garnish with more black pepper and chopped parsley.

A Simple Guide to Sea Urchins

Growing up, I remember sea urchins being ubiquitous in the aquarium touch pools. I didn't think of these spiny, little sea creatures any other way until I was a young adult and had uni for the first time. Since then, sea urchin and food have been synonymous. In the past, I rarely found sea urchin outside a sushi restaurant, but lately, I’m seeing sea urchin more and more in unexpected places. In 2016, Nestle named it one of the top ten food trends due to their unique flavor. Chefs are finding more creative uses for sea urchin as they push the envelope, and it seems this little “sea hedgehog” is an ingredient that's here to stay.

About the Sea Urchin

Sea urchins are echinoderms most closely related to sea cucumbers and sea stars. Their spherical shells, or tests, are made up of plates and movable spines that protect them from predators. There are about 950 species of sea urchins that inhabit a wide range of depth zones in all climates across the world’s oceans. About 18 of them are edible. They primarily feed on algae and kelp, but are also omnivorous scavengers that will feed on animal matter.

Source: Shape of Life. A time-lapse video shows how urchins actively graze on kelp.

Sea Urchin as Food

When it comes to consumption, sea urchins are harvested for their gonads, also known as uni. These bright yellow to orange lobes are “stockpiles” of sugars, amino acids, and salts: a trifecta of sweet, salty, and umami. It’s been dubbed as the foie gras of the sea given its buttery texture and delicate ocean flavors. Like oysters, sea urchins also vary in flavor depending on its species and diet. Urchin lovers, for example, prize Hokkaido uni because of its flavor, developed from the urchin's diet of Hokkadio macro algae kombu.

The green, red, and purple species have the highest demand globally because their lobes tend to be larger and visually more appetizing. 99% of sea urchin are wild and harvested by diving or drags.

There are about 950 species of sea urchins… About 18 of them are edible.

99% of sea urchin are wild and harvested by diving or drags.

Source: Food Republic. L to R: Maine, Santa Barbara, and Hokkaido sea urchin.

Source: Food Republic. L to R: Maine, Santa Barbara, and Hokkaido sea urchin.

The Global and Domestic Market for Sea Urchin and Uni

The greatest consumption of sea urchin occurs in Japan, France, and Korea. Japanese consumption, however, wins by a landslide: the country consumes 80-90% of the current global supply. Sea urchin is a traditional staple in Japanese cuisine. Japan was the largest global harvester of sea urchins until the 1980s, but high demand and a decrease in domestic supply forced it to look abroad. From the 1980s to 1994, the US, particularly Maine, was the largest exporter of green sea urchin. Today, it’s Chile, which exports Chilean red urchin and accounts for 50% of global landings. Overall global supply has decreased over the last twenty years due to storms, decreasing kelp beds, invasive species, and over fishing. In 1995, global landings totaled 120,000 tonnes. In 2017, it decreased to 75,000.

In North America, the main sources of sea urchin come from the Canadian Maritime; Maine; and the Pacific coast from British Columbia to California. Green sea urchins are harvested from the Atlantic, while red and purple urchins are harvested from the Pacific. These days, domestic supply stays domestic to meet growing demand and ethnic markets. Domestic supply is also supplemented by imported product, mostly from Chile, during summer months.

How to Prepare Sea Urchin

Sea urchin is usually served raw as sushi, commonly seen in Japanese cuisine, but it has a variety of applications. Mediterranean cuisines have used urchin in sauces, pastas, and on breads for centuries. Modern day chefs are even transforming the ingredient into foams and mousses.

Preparing sea urchin is super easy with super tasty results. Bekah demonstrates how in this quick tutorial.

And as a bonus, here’s a recipe to try from our Pangea test kitchen —
Linguine with Uni and Meyer Lemon

Let's Get Sauced

By Bekah Angoff and Jessica Hertel

When ordering oysters at any establishment, there is an expectation of what that plate should look like: a mound of ice, your bivalves of choice, and a combination of lemon wedges, cocktail sauce, hot sauce, horseradish and mignonette. What do you use? Do you give everything a squirt of lemon and dig in, or is there a specific layering ritual with the sauces on hand? Whatever your calling, there are specific reasons for the presence of each condiment:

Lemon: Lemon is a normal accompaniment for seafood, as some with sensitive nosed like to lessen the aroma of fish with the fresh lemon. For oysters, the acid acts as a bit of a mask for the brine and the citrus aroma makes the oyster appear to be sweeter, which is the reason this is the number one side piece for an oyster.

Cocktail Sauce: The main component of cocktail sauce is ketchup; a thick and viscus substance that is sweet with a light touch of vinegar. Mix in some horseradish and a dash of tobacco and Worcestershire, and you have yourself a culinary wallop. The umami notes in the ketchup and the sharpness of the horseradish both enhance the sweet umami finish of an oyster.

Horseradish: When you isolate just the horseradish from cocktail sauce, you have a sharp and spicy bite with a punch of vinegar. This will give the appearance of more salt, but the aromatic pungency will mask most of or all of the finish of the oyster. A perfect condiment for brine hounds with an appreciation for a zesty zing.

Hot Sauce: Hot sauce is a very general term for a multitude of formats. Traditionally, Tabasco is used as the vinegary base is a palate reviver, and again, down-playing the appearance of salt in the brine. What the spice (capsaicin) does is add texture or heat to your palate in small doses but be careful about piling it on. The intensity of the heat can take away from the finish of the oyster, especially if you have a sauce with other aromatics in it.

Mignonette: Mignonette has that vinegar element that we love to use to lessen the appearance of salt but with a lower acidity found in red wine vinegar. The enhancement is slightly less than straight lemon juice. Also, with the addition of shallots and black pepper, we can round out the experience a bit.  The sweetness of the shallots will bring out the sweet notes of any oyster’s finish, and the pepper is just a little bit of heat (see above) that will help enhance the brine against the vinegar.

the conference room set up for the tasting. each employee tasted and rated all of the sauces in a blind tasting

the conference room set up for the tasting. each employee tasted and rated all of the sauces in a blind tasting

Now that we know what the purpose of each traditional sauce is, what is the best option for each? Jessica and I took homemade and store-bought sauces for each category (except for the lemon – do you know how to make a lemon from scratch?) and set up a blind taste-test to see which sauce would reign supreme. We decided on mostly store-bought along with a classic recipe used at Pangea and set them up in our conference room for the whole Pangea staff to try a and evaluate. I’ll let Jessica take over from here to explain our findings.


Cocktail Sauce:

We all know the basic components of cocktail sauce: start with ketchup, some horseradish, and maybe some hot sauce and/or Worcestershire.  With so many brands to choose from are they all really that different? Surprisingly we found that they had some very clear differences in texture and flavor.  Some more pleasing than others. What we tried; Heinz, McCormick, Old Bay, Whole Foods 365, and Pangea’s Cocktail Sauce.  The nice thing about homemade items is that you can tweak them to your preferences. 

The Winners! –

1st - Old Bay - peppery, aromatic, with a zesty sweetness
2nd - Pangea’s Homemade – zesty and zingy with a subtle sweetness
3rd & 4th - Tied - Heinz & McCormick’s - flavor very different from each other Heinz had a BBQ note, McCormick’s was tomato heavy, and a pasty consistency
5th - Whole Foods - has a solid tang and zest, but consistency is watery and has no spice

Horseradish:

A horse is a horse is a horseradish, right? Wrong, they all differ quite a bit from one to the next.  Now there are not a lot of brands to choose from at your local grocer, Gold’s is the most readily available.  But with the handy dandy inter web and those giants of commerce Amazon being the giants they are we got our hands on a few others.  A basic homemade horseradish is pureed horseradish root, water, vinegar, and/or a salt sugar combo.  The notable differences in each were heat level and texture.  What we tried; Golds, Beaver, Tulkoff, and homemade.  Now if you have a food processor then making your own might be an option, but I have to say that hand grating a horseradish root is not only time consuming but tiring! Our recommendations would be to simply find your favorite brand and let them do the work!

The Winners! –

                1st - Tulkoff Ex Hot - clearly, we here at Pangea are fans of the spice!
                2nd – Beaver - also high on the spice level with a creamy texture
                3rd - Golds - texture was a little rough and unless you get the extra hot its somewhat mild
                4th - Homemade - it’s a pain to make and clearly not our forte

the Hot Sauce blind test set up - remember not to double dip!

the Hot Sauce blind test set up - remember not to double dip!

Hot Sauce:

The variety is real!  The possible combinations of capsaicin providing peppers, to vinegar, spices, and additives are endless.  In a 1.4-billion-dollar industry there are hundreds if not thousands of different kinds of hot sauce.  Fun fact Tabasco accounts for 18% of the market.  So, we put the classics up against an awesome local product and tossed our own creation in the mix.  The thing to note with hot sauce is that one may be delicious on your breakfast but contains an element that doesn’t pair the best with your oysters (like sugar).   What we tried; Tabasco, Siracha, Cholula, Alex’s Ugly, Pangea Hot Sauce.  With so many products out there, have fun and try through some, or just get our recipe and make your own. 

The Winners! –

1st by a mile - Alex’s Ugly (good kick to it not too vinegar driven, great consistency)
2nd & 3rd Tied - Homemade & Cholula (Cholula – tangy and spicy and fresh.  Pangea – tangy spicy with a fruity element)
4th - Siracha (element of sweetness, and a pasty consistency)
5th - Classic Tabasco (runny and vinegar driven, with all the choices out there today try something new!)

Mignonette:

This category really ends up being more about the individual ingredients rather than what brand is best.  There are very few places that sell a premade mignonette.  Certain Wholefoods locations seem to be the only ones who make it based on our research.  Don’t fret, they are super easy to make, very little kitchen skills required.  Basically, they are just minced shallots, pepper (of the black or white variety) and vinegar.  Now the real differences are in the vinegar components, either straight, multiple kinds, or cut with a little wine or water.  What we tested here was what vinegar components worked best for oysters.  What we tried; Classic Red Wine Vinegar, Sherry Vinegar, Prosecco Vinegar, Balsamic Vinegar, Pangea Blueberry White Balsamic.

The Winners! –

1st - Pangea’s Blueberry White Balsamic BY A MILE – white balsamic offers a subtle sweetness
2nd – The Classic Red Wine Vinegar – its hard to beat a classic - take the Camaro for example!
3rd – Prosecco & White wine Vinegar – with the addition of a pinch of sugar took some of the edge off
4th – Balsamic Vinegar, little harsher than the rest, and color is a bit off putting
5th – Sherry Vinegar – just not the favorite

Overall, the highest scores went out to Blueberry Mignonette and Alex’s Ugly Sauce for the clear front runners in their respective category. Alex’s Sauce can be found in many groceries stores around New England and the recipe for the mignonette can be found here.  However, we did also poll the staff to find out their favorite way to eat an oyster.  We clearly might be a little biased about the quality of our product, but the majority of Pangea staffers prefer to eat their oysters completely naked. 

 

 

Recipe: Blueberry and White Balsamic Mignonette

This simple take on a mignonette is requested often by Ben, as it is a perfectly balanced sweet and sour that match the complex and buttery finish of a Standish Shore. Local blueberry brambles are laden with ripe fruit right now, so grab a pint and a few oysters for a wicked good time.

1 c. white balsamic vinegar
½ c. blueberries, sliced in half
¼ c. shallots, minced
1T. coarse ground black pepper

Combine all of the ingredients and let it sit for about an hour. The sauce will keep for up to two weeks. For an added aromatic twist, add a bit of chopped basil, tarragon, or thyme.