Summer is the perfect time to free yourself of inhibitions. That said, picking up a case of crabs may not be on your list of things to do this season, but relax: The kind of crabs to which we’re referring are from our local fishery, and make for some fine summertime snacking. Other Santa Barbara shellfish worth checking out include sweet, succulent spot prawns; ridgeback shrimp; and farmed oysters, mussels, and clams.
The Santa Barbara fishery has a reputation for being one of the most sustainable, due to its strict regulations, and the fact that all of the boats are small, family-run vessels. According to Brian Colgate, owner of the harbor’s Fish Market, “Our spot prawns are a great example of marine resource management. It’s a limited entry fishery — there are only about 20 permits licensed worldwide.”
Santa Barbara spot prawns, which are actually a shrimp species (shrimp carry their eggs outside the body, beneath the tail, while prawns carry their eggs inside the body, near the tail), are revered for their sweet, lobster-like flesh. They are named for the distinctive white spots found on their sides, and are available year-round. Supplies are limited, however, due to a 2003 law passed by the Fish and Game Commission that outlawed the use of trawl fishing, which, although yielding higher volume, also resulted in a good deal of by-catch and dead loss, as well as degradation of the sea floor.
Today, spot prawns can only be caught in traps. “The regulations state that spot prawns can only be brought in and sold live, unlike other shrimp species,” explained Colgate. “This retains their pristine condition — because they have to be hand-picked from the traps — and results in a more consistent product. But,” he continued, “it also makes them more labor-intensive to catch and sell, so the price has gone up considerably — to about $24-$28 per pound — so it’s rare to find them in restaurants now. We just ask our retail customers to call us or order them online so we have advance notice and can provide them with live product.”
Spot prawns are most prized among the Asian community, where their heads are deep fried, and the tails used for sashimi. However you choose to enjoy them, just know that you’re getting a truly local delicacy.
Ridgeback shrimp — actually a prawn, which just goes to show that the people naming these things just like to mess with our heads — are another S.B. treat. More tender and juicy than the spot prawn, these smaller Channel-dwellers are generally available into June, but the seasonal catch fluctuates. “Some years, like this one, the size of the shrimp is smaller,” said Colgate. “Our local fishers are really focused on maintaining a sustainable fishery, so they won’t bring in shrimp or crabs that are undersize, even though there are no size regulations per se. They’re aware that this is their livelihood, and they don’t want to deplete indigenous populations or disrupt the ecological balance.”
Even with this summer’s shrimp supply looking a tad … shrimpy, our rock and spider crab population is thriving. Rock crabs come in three varieties: brown, which reside in shallow water and have the largest claws; yellow, which have the thinnest shells and range to depths from 50 to 150 feet; and red, which are found at depths up to 300 feet and have the sweetest meat.
Sam Shrout, owner of the vessel Mysteri, sells his crabs right off the boat at the Saturday-morning Fisherman’s Market at the harbor. His wife, Sheri, frequently sells the day’s catch, which also includes local rockfish, at the Saturday Farmers Market. Fellow crab and rockfish fishermen Paul Teall and his 11-year-old son Parker also sell their catch at the Fisherman’s Market. While it’s illegal to sell crab claws on their own, these guys will happily de-claw your purchased crab for you onsite. Rock crabs have less body meat than Dungeness crabs, so use them when you want claw meat for a recipe, or serve the steamed claws for appetizers.
Spider crabs are a wider-ranging species, found everywhere from shallow water to depths up to 500 feet. Their flesh is more succulent and textured than that of rock crabs, but their thicker shells make them too labor-intensive for recipes that require lump meat. The best way to enjoy spiders is to have a crab feed. Spread a long table with newspaper, hand out picks and tools, a steady supply of local white wine, and get cracking. “Eating our local crab is more of a work-oriented thing,” said Colgate. “You need to not be afraid to just go for it with a hammer, and make an evening of it.”
While oysters, clams, and mussels aren’t wild-harvested in Santa Barbara, Bernard Friedman of Santa Barbara Mariculture is keeping us supplied by cultivating these mollusks just offshore of Hope Ranch. Santa Barbara Mariculture’s top priority is conservation of natural resources, and the company only grows species that thrive in our native waters and aren’t dependent on chemical additives or feed other than the nutrient-rich waters off the coast. The mollusks are grown on submersible long lines that are suspended off the sea floor. The oysters are a Pacific variety native to Japan, and are tender with a pronounced sweet, briny flavor. Mussels, once considered a worthless “trash” shellfish due to its filter-feeding nature, are today a menu favorite. Freedman grows a mid-sized Mediterranean variety, along with Manila — also known as littleneck — clams, which he sells at a prime, one-inch size for maximum sweetness.
How to Shop
The most important tip for choosing crustaceans (except for most shrimp) and all in-shell mollusks is to buy live. The proteins in these creatures start to degrade immediately after they die, and resulting bacteria can cause serious illness. Purchasing live ensures you’re getting the freshest possible product with optimum flavor. Rock and spider crab, in particular, deteriorate rapidly even if stored on ice, and Colgate strongly recommends only purchasing live specimens for the same reason.
When choosing mollusks, look for ones that have their shells slightly open, and tap on the shells lightly to see if they close, or choose closed ones that feel heavy for their size. After cooking, discard any mollusks that haven’t opened their shells. Friedman recommends storing live mollusks wrapped in a damp towel in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Where to Shop.
S.B. Fish Market: 117 Harbor Way, #F, 965-9564, sbfish.com Saturday Fisherman’s Market: 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., at the S.B. Harbor. Saturday Farmers Market: 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., corner of Cota and Santa Barbara streets. (Santa Barbara Mariculture’s products are sold at the Fish Market and Saturday’s Santa Barbara Farmers Market under the name Open Ocean Shellfish.)
The Shellfish Dish
by Emily R. See
Santa Barbara Shellfish Company: If it’s any fresher, it’s still in the water. If it’s any cheaper, well … I wouldn’t eat it. 230 Stearns Wharf, 966-6676.
Louie’s: Seafood reigns at this hidden treasure, which proves that you can (and should) have scallops with everything. 1404 De la Vina St., 963-7003.
FisHouse: Owned by the same folks as the Shellfish Co., you can count on the cioppino to be brimming with clams, shrimp, mussels, scallops, and half a local rock crab. 101 E. Cabrillo Blvd., 966-2112.
Ahi Sushi: Way beyond shrimp tempura, Ahi offers excellent Japanese-style seafood dishes that creatively incorporate local flavors. 3631 State St., 687-6942.
Lucky’s: Even shrimp cocktail is glamorous here. If you’re extra lucky, you might find abalone on the menu. 1270 Coast Village Rd., Montecito, 565-7540.
Pink Grapefruit Salad with Grilled Spot Prawns, Mint, Coriander, and Crispy Shallots (serves 4)
3 T. fresh lime juice, plus two extra limes
½ tsp. salt
pinch freshly ground white pepper
2 T. plus 1 tsp. golden brown (not dark brown) sugar
8 spot prawns* cleaned, de-veined
2 medium pink grapefruits, such as Rio Star
1½ c. mint leaves (tear them in half if large)
1½ c. coriander (cilantro) leaves
1 c. mixed greens such as mizuna or tatsoi
2 large shallots, thinly sliced
canola or peanut oil for frying
Soak skewers in water at least two hours prior to grilling to prevent burning.Preheat grill. Combine lime juice, salt, pepper, and brown sugar in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Adjust seasoning if necessary and set aside.
Heat oil in medium saucepan. Test to see if oil is ready by throwing in a piece of shallot — it should sizzle, but shouldn’t turn dark brown immediately. Cook shallots in three batches, frying them until golden brown, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels set on top of a baking rack.
Season prawns with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lime juice, skewer, and grill until just opaque, about one minute per side, maximum.
Section the grapefruit by cutting away the peel and the membranes between the segments. To assemble salad, toss greens and herbs in large bowl with just enough lime mixture to lightly coat leaves. Place a small mound of greens on each of four salad plates, and add several grapefruit segments and prawns, and drizzle with remaining vinaigrette. Garnish each salad generously with crispy shallots and serve immediately.
* Allow two or three prawns per person. You may also substitute grilled squid, poached lobster, or crab. © 2000, The Sustainable Kitchen.
by Emily R. See
R’s and Oysters: We’ve all heard the myth that we ought not eat oysters in months lacking an R, but that doesn’t mean you’ll have to go without until September, or start saying Aurgust. While some chalked it up to inadequate refrigeration and the illness that might ensue (no doubt a legitimate concern), it is actually due to an 18th-century attempt at fishery management, which closed the season between April and September, the months when the oysters typically reproduce.
The Color Purple: In ancient times purple dye was extracted from a vein in the meat of two species of mussels: Murex trunculus and Buccinum lapillus. The process, which involved extracting, salting, soaking, boiling, and reconstituting, was so extensive and expensive, only the very wealthy could afford it, hence the color’s long-standing association with royalty and power.
Lobster Rebellion: Lobsters were considered a throw-away up until the 1900s. Only fit to feed to servants, slaves, and prisoners, they were swept off docks and thrown overboard on fishing vessels. The crustaceans were so despised that prisoners began letter-writing campaigns to be freed of the shellfish, and Massachusetts servants rebelled to have their contracts amended so that they would not be made to eat lobster more than three times each week.
Hot Nights and Cold Brews
by Matt Kettmann
There’s nothing quite like long days and warm nights to kick-start brewmaster creativity. The first summer shot fired across the barroom bow this season was New Belgium’s Skinny Dip Ale, a lighter alternative to their now ubiquitous Fat Tire. (Talk about an exercise in mass-market penetration. Luckily, the Fort Collins, Colorado, brewers are environmentally minded dudes, otherwise we’d have to kick them back to the Rockies.) But look a little deeper, past New Belgium’s posters and swag, to find our own town’s brewers unleashing a fury of adventurous, thirst-quenching lagers and ales. Here’s a rundown:
Island Brewing Company: Although the Carpinteria brewhouse has been popping out quaffable ales for years now, owner Paul Wright never crafted a lager — that is, until this summer. The Island Tropical Lager — a k a “TPL” by the surfing Tar Pits Locals from the neighborhood — is related to the crisp, light lagers produced in Australia, Asia, and Latin America, which have slightly less alcohol than other lagers (about 4.5 percent), are cold-fermented and “lagered” (or aged) for a crisper finish, and use either brewer’s sugar (which Wright employs) or corn and rice, à la most American lagers. Island’s concoction is more flavorful than the typical American lager and, said Wright, “Everybody seems to love it. There’s already a petition being started by people who are threatening me to have it all the time.” Translation? Get it while he’s got it on tap at the brewery, the only place to find it now. Island Brewing Company is located in Carpinteria, where Linden Avenue hits the railroad tracks.
Santa Barbara Brewing Company: If you’ve been to State Street’s favorite brewing company recently, you may already know about their Summer Saison, a Belgian farmhouse-style beer decorated with hints of jasmine flower, coriander seed, white pepper, and yuzu, a citrusy juice from Japan that’s typically used in sushi rice. “It’s definitely our most adventurous beer,” said brewmaster Eric Rose. “It’s pretty out-there, even for me, and I do some pretty out-there flavors.” In a couple weeks, Rose will proudly unveil a Kolsch-style beer, which is an ale originally from Cologne, Germany, that’s fermented at cold, lager-like temperatures to produce cleaner flavors. They’ve tried the style before, but this time they’re letting it age for an extra two weeks. Even better news? The S.B. BrewCo is taking over the former Fig & Haley pool hall and turning it into a full-fledged bar, with all their brews on tap and hard liquor. Get ready for a wet season. The S.B. Brewing Company is located at 501 State Street.
The Brewhouse: “We’re pretty much scrambling to keep our pale ale, pilsner, and IPA on tap,” explained Brewhouse brewmaster Pete Johnson. “We’re going through beer so fast.” Johnson also said that a Belgian-style wheat ale — called a witbier — should be coming online soon as a thirst-quencher. But Johnson was most excited to hype the release of his Elephant Seal Double IPA, which boasts a hefty 8.5 percent alcohol. It’s been dry-hopped twice, so it’ll have a “huge aroma,” said Johnson, “which is why I call it the Elephant Seal — they have big noses.” Dig dessert after your boozin’? The Brewhouse also makes its own root beer now, perfect for that ice cream float. The Brewhouse is located in the West Beach neighborhood, 229 West Montecito Street.
Firestone-Walker Brewing Company: “Well, we don’t really make any special summer brews,” said marketing man Jamie Smith, “but our pale ale was just named the best in the world for the second year in a row.” What? “And we also won champion mid-sized brewery for the second year in a row.” Turns out the little side project from Buellton that morphed into a mass-producer based in Paso Robles is the reigning brewer to beat, at least according to the World Beer Cup, held annually in Seattle. So while they’re simply pushing their lighter lager for the summer months, it seems like it might be time to get a taste of that pale ale. Firestone-Walker Brewing Company is located at 620 McMurray Road in Buellton.
by Emily R. See
On the Block: Last month saw the end of Gisella’s, which followed closely on the heels of the shuttering of Eclectico and La Ombretta. Now Emilio’s and Smokin’ Jack’s Kansas City BBQ are both up for sale as turn-key restaurants. The owners of Jack’s are reportedly heading south to bring their BBQ to the folks of Los Angeles. No word yet on what’s in store for the folks at Emilio’s.
C’est Bon! Proving there is hope for resurrection, though, is Le Bon Café, which opened earlier this month in the former Dish location. Jean Paul LuVanVi is still around, but focusing on being a chef this time. And the focus is unquestionably on the food, not on pretension. The self-serve café highlights huge made-to-order salad bowls, noodle bowls, and top-notch ingredients, all with LuVanVi’s eclectic touches. The result is what he describes as five-star-worthy food, for two-star prices. 138 E. Canon Perdido, 966-5365.
Backyard Guava Grillin’
by Matt Kettmann
Nothing reeks of summer more than that sweet, roasty smell emanating from backyard barbecues as the sun sets on yet another languid Santa Barbara Sunday (or Monday, or Tuesday, or Wednesday …). Simply put, there’s no such thing as summer food without the appearance of grill marks, slightly charred edges, and steaming, moist meats. And none of those traits are acceptable without a glaze of sauce to add mouth-dripping flavor to that rack of baby-back ribs or those caps of portabella mushrooms atop your coals.
For some expert advice on the latest in barbecue-saucing, I went straight to my buddy Dirty, who’s known in many circles to treat his meat with the best juice around. For this summer, Dirty — a k a Mark De la Cruz — prescribes a guava-infused glaze that, he said, works best on pork, but has been known to spice up shrimp too.
“What’s cool about barbecue sauce is that you can change it around and it always tastes good,” Dirty explained, adding that he’s seen everything from lemonade powder to Coca-Cola go into the mix. “But by no means is this a traditional Southern barbecue sauce. This is a whole different take.”
- Dirty’s Guava Barbecue Sauce
25-oz. can of La Costeña guava paste (available at the Westside’s Guadalajara Market)
5-oz. apple cider vinegar
1 c. of water
½ c. dark rum (Mount Gay, Meyers, etc.)
12-oz. can of unsweetened, unsalted tomato paste
½ c. lime juice
¼ c. soy sauce
¼ c. Worcestershire sauce
¼ c. tonkatsu sauce
Combine ingredients in previous column together in a large saucepan over medium heat until consistent (30-60 minutes), then add:
1 medium-sized sweet onion, minced
1 clove of garlic, minced
Four-inch piece of ginger root, grated
2 habañero peppers (seed them unless you want it real spicy)
Hawaiian sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste