Chinese Alaskan King Crab Dinners!

Chinese Alaskan King Crab Dinners!

It’s is that time of year again seafood lovers…

There is nothing quite like the excitement I have for this time of year. Some people get excited about the McRib coming back to McDonald’s, or the “buck a shuck oysters”, or BC Spot Prawns (which I actually get really excited about too), but there’s nothing quite like the Alaskan King Crab. This is the King of all Chinese meals and a Follow Me Foodie “must try” if you’re ever in Vancouver.

There are the chilled Alaskan King Crab legs at the Vegas buffet, and steamed ones served with melted butter, but this one is unique to Chinese cuisine and has become one of the most celebrated Chinese meals in Vancouver. The Alaskan King Crab dinner has become so famous with the local and global Chinese community that it’s not surprising to have more Chinese tourists during this time of year. Whether it’s flying in or cruising up, it’s an epic meal that is considered a “tourist attraction” for foodies. That’s why it’s so surprising to me that even locals have yet to experience it.

I mentioned “Head to Tail Dining for Seafood” as one of my Top 10 food trends for Vancouver in 2012, and this is what I’m talking about. Things like this is what I would love to see more of. We live on the West Coast and we’re a city that’s supposed to be famous for our seafood, yet I feel like it’s rarely showcased to its maximum potential. Outside of Chinese cuisine, the concept of “Ocean Wise” speaks louder than most the seafood we’re served here, and I think gluten free and Japanese izakaya hold an even stronger presence.

There is just so much more than deep fried fish n’ chips, kalamari, salmon burgers, garlic butter with lobster tails, and peeled shrimp scampi without the heads. There is nothing wrong with all of the above, but there is just so much more to explore and appreciate. I really hate waste, and honestly there is so much waste when it comes to how our “North American culture” (I use the term somewhat lightly) appreciates seafood.

Chinese Alaskan King Crab Dinners

It is Alaskan King Crab season and this is one of the best ways to experience head to tail dining for seafood. It is a meal that requires 6-10 people and almost all higher end Chinese restaurants is offering it from now until April. There are some affordable restaurants offering it too, but you just have to find them and anywhere with an in house seafood tank is a sure bet. The prices are slowly creeping back up, so I suggest you make a reservation and go as soon as possible. Don’t wait. The meat is also flakier, meatier, juicier and better now than later on.

As for ordering and not understanding the Chinese menu, don’t even worry about it because it’s a set menu anyways. It is on the pricey side (as Alaskan King Crab is), but it’s usually about $40-50/person depending on the size of your crab, restaurant and number of diners. It’s Chinese “fine dining”, which will almost always be less than any American/West Coast/European style of fine dining anyways. It is well worth every dime and I’d almost forfeit any other fine dining meal that could happen in the month of March-April just for this one.

You can also buy Alaskan King Crab at T&T Supermarket, but unless you know what you’re doing, it’s not an ingredient to “experiment” with. It’s expensive, so messing it up is awful… unless you’re rich and can afford to.

On the table:

First Course – Alaskan King Crab Legs

Steamed Alaskan King Crab Legs with Garlic from Empire Chinese Seafood

Steamed Alaskan King Crab Legs with Garlic from Kirin Seafood Restaurant

The first course to your Chinese Alaskan King Crab dinner will usually be steamed Alaskan King Crab legs with garlic. In China or Hong Kong they might start with an Alaskan King Crab soup, but you don’t really see that being offered in Vancouver, BC. The set menu will usually include some sort of seafood soup to start though.

The Steamed Alaskan King Crab Legs should be topped with lots of sweet and nutty garlic and perhaps some onions. Don’t miss out on the sauce it sits on. It’s the natural crab juices and most restaurants will offer to toss the remaining sauce with noodles for an extra charge. Do it.

Second Course – Alaskan King Crab Legs

Spicy Deep Fried Alaskan King Crab Knuckles from Empire Chinese Seafood

Spicy Deep Fried Alaskan King Crab Knuckles from Kirin Seafood Restaurant

Each restaurant has their own style, but Spicy Deep Fried Alaskan King Crab Knuckles is the standard second course. Chilies, jalapenos, garlic, onions and salt are used to season the lightly battered and fried knuckles.

Third Course – Noodles (Upon Request)

Egg noodles tossed in steamed Alaskan King Crab garlic sauce from Empire Chinese Seafood

Yi-Mein or “E-Fu” Noodles tossed in steamed Alaskan King Crab garlic sauce

Egg noodles tossed in steamed Alaskan King Crab garlic sauce from HML Seafood Restaurant

The restaurant may have it on the set menu already, but sometimes you have to make a special request for the noodle dish. They use the leftover sauce from your steamed garlic crab leg course and toss it with noodles, chives and bean sprouts. I usually see it made with egg noodles, but sometimes they may use Yi Mein or E-Fu Noodles.

Fourth Course – Baked Alaskan King Crab Fried Rice

Baked Alaskan King Crab Fried Rice with Portuguese Curry Sauce from Empire Chinese Seafood

Baked Alaskan King Crab Fried Rice with Portuguese Curry Sauce

It’s fried rice with crab meat baked inside the Alaskan King Crab shell head. It’s Chinese style gourmet “baked Portuguese rice”. The top looks like baked on cheese, but it’s actually the tomalley (guts/sperm/organs/brains) of the crab. It’s made into an indulgent cream sauce with perhaps a hint of curry or turmeric for colour, but it’s not spicy. It tastes like a curry bechamel with some seafood flavour and it’s very buttery, rich and extremely high in cholesterol… that’s why it’s so damn good though.

Baked Alaskan King Crab Fried Rice with Tomato Sauce from Kirin Seafood Restaurant

Some restaurants like Kirin will offer the baked fried rice with tomato sauce, but I would strongly recommend going with the yellow Portuguese curry cream sauce. This tomato version doesn’t use the tomalley, which pretty much defeats the purpose of “head to tail” dining. The tomato sauce is Ketchup based, so again just go for the standard cream sauce if you want to do it the traditional way.

Baked Alaskan King Crab Fried Rice with Tomato Sauce

Other courses in the Alaskan King Crab Set Menu…

Since the Alaskan King Crab dinner is a multi-course set menu, it includes other dishes as well. The Peking Duck Crepes is a standard dish and it would actually come before the steamed crab legs.

The Peking Duck Lettuce Wraps is another standard dish in the Alaskan King Crab set menu and it’s the second course to the Peking Duck. They usually come hand in hand.

Depending on how many people the set menu is for, the menu will include 1-2 vegetable dishes too. The bigger the group the more dishes there are and things like chicken, fish and other courses will be included.

Dessert

Baked Tapioca Pudding

Dessert should be included or complimentary and it will either be hot red bean soup or chilled coconut tapioca soup. I would highly recommend pre-ordering a Baked Tapioca Pudding if the restaurant offers it. This will not be complimentary, but it’s worth it. Baked Tapioca Pudding typically has to be pre-ordered because it’s a popular specialty that needs to be prepared in advance.

Other Styles of Alaskan King Crab

Outside of Asian dining there aren’t many restaurants featuring head to tail dining which is a bit of a shame. That’s why I was ecstatic when I was tweeted the following photos from Chef Jefferson Alvarez at Fraiche Restaurant.

King Crab Brain Custard, Apple Cucumber Soda Foam, and Heart of Palm

Ginger Butter Poached King Crab, Roasted Steelhead and Saffron Olive Oil Sauce

If the idea of eating tomalley freaks you out, you may have already eaten it and not even know it. Chefs who know how to use the tomalley may use it for the sauce, lobster bisque, seafood chowder or crab stock. It tastes like the best seafood butter of your life, so you’re really missing out if you don’t give it a try. It’s not even really an “Asian thing” as I’ve had tomalley outside of Asian cuisine, but I would love to see it being used more widely.

 Do you think Vancouver is ready for head to tail dining for seafood?

(Includes fish cheeks, fish skin, fish tails, BC Spot prawn heads etc.)

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