In May 2016, I wrote a Chef column from the city of Kodiak, on Kodiak Island — about 400 miles from the Alaska mainland. I remarked that Kodiak is “a picturesque little town (reminiscent of Sandpoint) founded by Russians and peopled now by lovers of the outdoors, fishermen, pioneer stock and ethnic residents.”
I was there visiting my son Grant, his wife Becky and their daughter, Jessica — during the annual Crab Festival — a great event held whether rain, snow or shine, when the crab boats gather at the docks laden with spiny-legged, succulent crabs. I wrote that …“Boat horns toot in cadence with the roar and cough of the huge sea lions which laze on the wharf, and seagulls add their plaintive cries to the bedlam of sound. It’s wonderful”! … And it was.
What I didn’t write about was the beautiful tradition of the “Blessing of the Fleet” — a treat that I’ll remember forever.
In the morning of the last day of the festival, all the fishing boats of every ilk — from big commercial ships to small three- to four4-man crafts — line up along the wharves and proceed on their way to open ocean for the new season’s fishing. At the end of the last, longest wharf, the Russian Orthodox priest, in full regalia stands with his wand of holy water and blesses each boat as they pass in procession.
We stood on the summit of a low cliff overlooking the narrow passage through which all the boats would ply their way into the bay, when an unexpected drama took place at our end of the channel: Leaping and swimming frantically, came a seal — zig-zagging, diving, trying to take cover in the rocks — pursued by two big black-and-white Orcas — or killer whales. They were working in tandem to try and cut the seal off from entering the safety of the channel, and the seal was definitely losing.
However, the angels who watch over fishermen (and presumably frantic seals) took pity on the harassed creature — and at the moment when it looked as though its fate was “sealed” the first boat — a ship, actually — loomed into the passage after its blessing and with horns festively blowing, allowed the seal to slip into the haven of the wharves. The two Orcas (gorgeous creatures!) turned away thwarted, and we above cheered the outcome. Of course, the ship knew nothing about the seal/orca episode and thought we were waving at them, reciprocating with waves of their own and copious horn toots. A joyous cacophony to remember fondly.
That earlier column contained some great crab recipes, and I’ve scored some new ones from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Inst., which happily has my name on their mailing list. Enjoy!
Our illustration features a fabulous Benedict calling for snow crab — but you can use any crab you wish (except canned — too flaky and watery). This is sensational — but hot! Use your favorite biscuits — cornmeal, cheese, buttermilk, or French bread/baguette slices.
Crab Benedict Diablo
6 cups crab-meat, shredded, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
6 biscuits of choice, fresh-baked, warmed, or lightly toasted
1 dozen eggs
Prepared Hollandaise sauce (about 1 quart0
Prepared thick & chunky salsa (hot or mild)
About 1 cup Cheddar cheese, shredded
Chopped cilantro or parsley for garnish
It would be good if two people could work together assembleing this dish, but one can handle it. The secret is to have everything laid out and ready for quick placement.
Prepare the sauce first. Stir together the hollandaise and salsa together well, warm in a saucepan, stirring until hot through, then half-cover and set heat at low. Place warmed plates on the counter; split and butter warm biscuits, lay two halves cut side up on each plate.
Using an egg poacher, fill oiled cups and cover; or bring a large oiled skillet of cold water to a boil over medium-high heat, break and slip the eggs into the gently boiling water. Quickly divide 1 cup of crabmeat over the two biscuit halves on each plate; with a slotted spoon, lift and drain the eggs (using the first in the water first, etc.), and place one on each biscuit half until all are covered. Pour 2/3 cup of the hot sauce mix evenly over both eggs on each plate; sprinkle with two tablespoons of shredded cheese on each serving, then the chopped parsley or cilantro. Serve immediately.
Easy and elegant, our king crab and pear-watercress salad is a winner.
King Crab Salad
For each person:
2 thawed king crab legs, split lengthwise, meat brushed with olive oil/white wine/grated fresh ginger mix, steamed in oven for about 4 minutes;
Salad of equal amounts watercress leaves and sliced romaine; 2 very thin slices red Spanish onion, separated; 1/3 cup chopped walnuts ; toss together. Top with slices of 1 pear, peeled, (or canned, drained,sliced); Vinaigrette.*
Arrange 2 steamed ginger-legs (leave in their shells) on each plate with a serving of salad; serve.
* I recommend Litehouse’s Pear Gorgonzola Vinaigrette hands down!
A final note: Please always use real wild-caught crab. The fake crab, or “krab” is made from a white-fleshed fish that used to thrive in seal-island areas and served as the seals (and sea-lions, etc.,) main source of food — especially valuable during birthing time so the mothers did not have to forage far from the rookery.
When fishermen discovered this previously unknown source of fish, they went after them big-time — nearly decimating the fish — and the seal’s source of food. Over time the seal population has suffered and dwindled — searching for new sites for breeding — the mothers often swimming hundreds of miles to find food — babies starving — nature’s balance totally undone.