Crabs, Shrimps, and Oysters, Oh My!

S.B. Shellfish Make for Perfect Summer Eating

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.

RECIPE:

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

wooden skewers

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.

Shellfish Trivia

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.

Tidbits

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

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