Dungeness Crab Martini – Cracked not Stirred 4 Febuary 2010
Appetizers Seafood

Dungeness Crab Martini – Cracked not Stirred

The martini is perhaps the most romanticized and bastardized alcoholic wallop ever invented. Among famous martini aficionados are Winston Churchill, FDR, Ernest Hemingway, Cary Grant and the fictional James Bond who preferred his “shaken, not stirred” and with vodka. H. L. Mencken once called the martini “the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet.” Like many recipes with a rich history, the martini has gathered varied stories along the way, including its make-over as a “Gibson.”

Surely part of the romance stems from the elegant glass that was created to hold the carefully chilled cocktail. An expertly prepared martini or Gibson, whether shaken or stirred, is very pleasing to the eye perched in the bowl of this classic stemware.

However, does martini always = cocktail? What about shrimp cocktail? Why not an ample serving of simply dressed crabmeat presented in the same glass. My vision of a crab martini will be beautiful, unadulterated crabmeat dressed as simply as possible, allowing the sweetness of the crab to command center stage.

Fresh from his experience of a Lobster Thermidor makeover into Dungeness Crab Thermidor, Vic remembered a Ginger Dipping Sauce I often make. The sauce is one of a trio I serve with shrimp and/or crab cocktails. The other two are a traditional red cocktail sauce and a white remoulade sauce. “Yes,” I said, “a Ginger Dipping Sauce will be a perfect dressing for our ‘crab martini’.”

The Ginger Dipping Sauce hails from one of my first seafood cookbooks — Ann Clark’s Fabulous Fish by Ann Clark. I remember reading the enticing review of this book in Texas Monthly and knew I had to have it.

Ann Clark is South Dakotan by birth and Texan by choice. She left South Dakota to attend Smith College and then embarked on a sojourn in France as an au pair for a family in the French Alps. Her goal: to perfect her French. However, she returned to the US with much more. Her duties included shopping for the family’s food, where she gained invaluable knowledge of the extraordinary foods of France and their preparation.

In the introduction of her book, she vividly remembers enjoying a local-caught pan-fried sunfish as a little girl. She recalls other first tastes of seafood around the world: just-caught lobster on the East Coast, octopus and potatoes fried in olive oil with cold retsina in a Greek taverna, bravely savoring the roe of sea urchins, and her introduction to sushi and sashimi in San Francisco’s Japantown.

Ann’s sophisticated knowledge and experience with seafood is spilled out over 274 pages, beginning with kitchen basics, descriptions of various types of seafood and most common ways of preparation. The details she goes into are a wonderful primer for cooks just venturing into seafood preparation and a refresher for those more experienced. It is, in essence, an almost encyclopedic book of fish cookery, peppered with stories of recipes’ origins and thoughtful suggestions for improvisation.

When I made her version of Thai Squid Salad for Vic and his mom, Pranee, eyebrows were raised. It was almost identical to the version Pranee makes with the exception of substituting shallots for the red onion. Bangkok-born Pranee was impressed.

Ann has been based in Austin, Texas since the mid-1960s and, besides authoring cookbooks, has taught in her own cooking schools, consulted on kitchen design, catered, and served as a private chef at Iron Horse Vineyards in Sonoma County, California during grape crush. Her passionate love of all things food glows from her experiences and she loves to pass this on.

Cooking is, ultimately, an act of love, of grace, of giving and sharing, of real communion, of living fully in the moment.

Ann Clark, in Quick Cuisine 1993

Dungeness Crab Martini
Dressing recipe adapted with permission from Ann Clark’s Fabulous Fish

Dungeness Crab Martini
Dungeness Crab Martini


Unfortunately, Ann’s book is out of print and you will have to search out used copies. If you ever see one in a used book store, grab it. As of this writing, there is one copy at Powell’s in Portland. The link under the recipe title will take you to an article from The Austin Chronicle showcasing Ann’s career in food as well as other interests.

  1. ½ cup (120 ml.) rice wine vinegar (unseasoned)
  2. 1 tablespoons (15 ml.) water
  3. 1 tablespoon (15 ml.) fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  4. 3 tablespoons (30 ml.) mirin*
  5. Pinch of salt
  6. 2 tablespoons (30 ml.) chopped scallions
  7. 1 pound (454 gr.) fresh dungeness crab meat, picked over
  • Combine the first six ingredients. Will keep refrigerated for 3-4 days.
  • Toss the crab with the dressing and serve straight up in martini glasses with cocktail forks.
  • Garnish with a quick cucumber pickle and pickled ginger on a pick along with a sprinkle of black sesame seeds.

* Mirin is a sweet rice wine easily found in supermarkets with a good ethnic selection. As it often contains salt, I prefer to buy mine from a natural foods store. Mitoku is an excellent brand.

Quick Cucumber Pickle

Peel, halve lengthwise and seed an English cucumber

  • Slice into half rounds
  • Place in a non-reactive dish and cover with rice wine vinegar and a generous pinch of kosher salt
  • Place in refrigerator for several hours

Pickled ginger can be found in natural food stores, supermarkets that have a sushi service and in the ethnic food section.

If you live beyond the West Coast, blue crab will probably be easier for you to find as they are plentiful from the Gulf Coast to as far as Nova Scotia. The Chesapeake Bay region is famous for its bounty of beautiful blue crabs. One of Maryland’s tourism slogans is “Maryland Is for Crabs”.

When we roll up our sleeves to dig into freshly steamed crab, Pranee makes up a delicious and simple dipping sauce with Nam Pla (Thai fish sauce), lime juice, shallots and chiles. I believe this would make a terrific Thai Crab Martini. Let me try twisting Vic’s arm on this one to share with you at a later date.

Ann’s Thai Squid Salad recipe could also be served as a “Calamaritini”. The flavors are perfectly balanced and it keeps well in the refrigerator for about a week. It’s all in the presentation!

Ann has another cookbook, Quick Cuisine, which is also out of print so be prepared to search it out on the Internet.

Bon appétit

— Charles

Victor Panichkul is a journalist and writer by training; a cook, wine lover and photographer by passion; and a lover of the outdoors since moving to Oregon more than 10 years ago. He is a native of Bangkok, Thailand.

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