Saturday, December 27, 2014

Crustacean Celebration: Don't Toss Those Shells!

In a previous post I called it a "Damascene moment." As when Paul of Tarsus was tossed off his horse and blinded whilst on a joyride to Damascus, I've had some mighty revelations in my culinary journeys. The one referred to above involved an admittedly pedestrian but delicious meatloaf, and the second was a head-slapper about corn stock made from freshly-shucked corn cobs that I'd been tossing into the compost for decades. D'oh!

The source material.

This week's landing-on-your-tailbone wake-up call happened when we had a dear friend over for Christmas dinner who doesn't eat red meat, immediately requiring the reconfiguration of dinner from a six-rib pork roast from the pig I'd just butchered to…what, exactly? Tuna loins were a possibility but were so, well, uninspiring to build a Christmas dinner around. Then, when other friends couldn't make a crab-centric Christmas Eve dinner, and being the flexible sorts we are, we subbed in pork chops for the evening's dinner and switched Dungeness crab onto the menu for Christmas Day.

It's a move Dick Button would have effused over as equivalent to a triple Salchow followed by a not-in-the-program quad Lutz, an audacious reconfiguration (though perhaps I exaggerate a tad…). In any case, both dinners were executed in delicious fashion, but I was left with a mountain of crab shells. I was bagging them up to throw in the compost bin when lightning struck. "Throw them out?" a voice boomed in my head, "Are you kidding?"

So many possibilities!

You see, I've become addicted to having fish stock on hand for fish-based risottos, paellas and chowders. But the stock made from the whole fish we buy, after roasting the carcasses, just doesn't supply enough to carry us for long. I'd read about making stock by boiling the shells from shrimp, and then my friend Hank Shaw posted about a crab stock he makes by adding vegetables and herbs to the shells. But since I prefer my stocks simple and unseasoned—the better to adapt to various types of uses—and with a pile of Dungeness shells at the ready, I simply threw them into a pot, covered them with water and let them simmer away for about 45 minutes on the stove.

Strained through a fine mesh sieve and cooled on the counter, I now have several quarts at my beck and call. Bouillabaisse, anyone?

For a plethora of seriously great crab recipes, from crab cakes to chowders to pasta dishes, see the previous posts in the series: 2009, 2010, 2011; 2012 and 2013.

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