steamed dungeness with easy garlic butter

Have you ever watched a crab on the shore crawling backward in search of the Atlantic Ocean and missing? That’s the way the mind of man operates. – Henry Louis Mencken

Many home chefs (and restaurants) simply drop live Dungeness into boiling water and serve the whole crab on a platter with a claw cracker and a shellfish knife.

Please don’t do this.

Boiling any animal to death, even a “lowly” crustacean, cannot, by any logical extension, be construed as a “clean kill.” Moreover,  dropping a whole crab into a rolling boil literally cooks the taste of the viscera into the flesh, sullies the cooking liquid (which will inevitably leak out of the shell and onto your plate while you’re eating), water-logs the meat, and makes the meal significantly less user friendly for your dinner guests. Eating crab directly from the shell is, by definition, messy, but fresh Dungeness should be the chin-dripping-finger-food kind of messy, not the crab-guts-sitting-in-a-slough-of-brackish-water kind of messy. Fortunately, said mess can easily be avoided by killing and cleaning your crab prior to cooking.

Once a crab has been killed, the flesh rapidly deteriorates as the digestive enzymes in the liver begin to break down the surrounding muscle tissue… so, do NOT kill your crab until you are actually ready to cook it (as in, the steamer is on the stove with a couple inches of water boiling inside).


In Canada, legally harvested Dungeness are male and must be a minimum of 165mm wide, measured in a straight line across the widest part of the carapace. Gender is easily ascertained by examining the crab’s abdomen; the female (top) has a broad abdomen, the male (bottom) has a narrow abdomen. The thorax, located directly above the abdomen, is your “kill zone.”

Dungeness can be killed easily and swiftly with a single sharp strike to the under shell; simply place the crab on its back in your kitchen sink and direct a swift blow to the thorax (located directly above the abdomen) using  a mallet, small hammer or other blunt instrument. In a pinch, the handle of a chef’s knife will also work, but as the objective here is blunt force, do not use the blade. Merely piercing the thorax will kill the crab, but not instantly, and it will continue to struggle for up to a minute. The blow should be hard enough to break the under shell but not so hard that it breaks the crab in half and cracks the top shell. Unlike lobster, you will know when you have killed a crab because it will actually stop moving and all the legs will relax.

Once you have killed the crab, turn it top shell side up, hold the legs on one side firmly with your non-dominant hand, and use your dominant hand to pry/twist off the top shell. As the shell releases from the body, the crab legs will fall naturally into two parts and most of the viscera will remain inside the shell.


The “body” meat will remain attached to the tops of the legs, encased in a translucent layer of shell. Sometimes the gills will stick to this meat; if this happens, simply peel them off and discard. Rinse the crab halves under running water.

Shake out and discard the innards from the top shells, then give them a good wash under running water. Boil them in a separate pan for 5 minutes, drain and set aside.


While the top shells are boiling, place the crab halves into your steamer basket over two inches of boiling water and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, depending on the size of your crab.


Remove the crab from the steamer and match up the left with the right side on a plate.


Set the cooked top shell back on top of the crab halves and Voilà! Piping hot, fresh steamed “whole” crab, without the mess or the waste. Serve immediately with garlic butter and champagne!


For the garlic butter, using a small saucepan, squash six garlic cloves to pop them out of their skins, then squash them a few more times to release the oils. Melt 1/4 cup of butter in a glass measuring cup in the microwave, then add the garlic. Allow it to steep for at least ten minutes. Briefly reheat to re-melt the butter, remove the garlic (okay, I admit it, I can’t be bothered to pick it out), and transfer the remaining butter to two small dipping bowls (actually, I can’t be bothered to do this either; presentation be damned, it just makes for extra dishes).

2 live Dungeness crabs, between 1 and 1 1/2 lbs each
1/4 cup butter
6 garlic cloves

1. Being careful not to crack the top shell, kill and clean the crab. Scrub the top shells and boil them in a separate pot for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.
2. Steam the crab “halves” until the claw shells are bright red and the meat is white and opaque, 5 – 7 minutes, depending on the crab size. If you’re uncertain, use an instant read thermometer to confirm that the crab has reached an internal temperature of 165º F.
3. Remove the crab from the steamer and match up the pairs on two pre-warmed plates. Place the cooked top shells back on top of the re-aligned crab halves and serve immediately with the garlic butter.

Serves 2

© copyright 2013 ingrid baier all rights reserved

quick(er) french onion soup

And if the boy have not a woman’s gift
To rain a shower of commanded tears,
An onion will do well for such a shift,
Which, in a napkin being close convey’d,
Shall in despite enforce a watery eye.
– William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew

Bill Watterson 1996

I love onion soup. Sodden baguette rounds drowning under a congealing gob of blubbery cheese… not so much.
French onion soup should be about the onions, not the bread. Or the cheese. In fact, cheese is to French onion soup what oak is to wine and ketchup is to hamburger; injudicious application is often a camouflage for incongruent flavors or lacklustre broth.

Classic versions of this soup call for yellow onions, white wine, and repeated de-glazing of the pan… but unless you actually want to spend all morning tethered to your stove, try red onions and dry red wine. Caramelized red onions will add complexity and flavour to the broth in a relatively short period of time, while red wine will bring deep colour to the finished soup.

Onions are easier to peel after they have been halved. Take 3 large red onions and halve them pole to pole, (through the root and stem, not across the equator), cut off the stem end and peel the skin back towards the root. Leave the root intact (it will hold the onion together as you slice) and slice the onions thinly, starting at the stem end.

Depending on the onion (and your choice of knife), this might make you cry. Onions absorb sulfur from the soil and convert it to amino acid sulfoxides that, when triggered by a specific enzyme, act as a chemical defense mechanism for the plant. Just think of it as tear gas for alliums: when onion cells are damaged by chewing, chopping or slicing, the sulfoxides form sulfenic acids, which the enzyme breaks apart to form a sulfur compound that is  released into the air as a kind of naturally occurring (unlike tear gas) lacrimator. As the sulfur compound lands on your eyeballs, it mixes with your tears and breaks down into hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide and sulfuric acid, a volatile concoction that irritates your corneal nerves and makes your eyes water (very much like tear gas).

Actually, I have been gassed, thanks for asking, it’s one of the many delights of basic training, and it ranks right up there with being marinated in copious quantities of police grade pepper spray.

In any event, a sharp knife and an efficient chopping method will mitigate the tear gas effect, as will chilling your onions for a few minutes in the freezer, as the cold will significantly slow the rate of the chemical reaction inside the onion.

Alternately, you can buy onion goggles…

Maybe it’s me, but the fact that you can even buy dedicated onion goggles lends credence to the cliché that a fool and his money are soon parted.

But back to the soup…

In a large Dutch oven, melt 3 TBSP of butter over medium-high heat. After the foaming subsides, add the onions and stir in  1 tsp of sea salt. Cook the onions for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently.

The dark brown crust on the bottom of the pan (the fond) is what you’re after here, as this is what gives the broth its flavor.

After about half an hour, the onions will be glossy and caramelized and will have reduced to almost nothing. Add 1/4 cup of dry red wine to the onions; scrape the bottom of the pan vigorously as the wine simmers, loosening the fond. When the liquid has evaporated and the bottom of the pot begins to brown again (3-4 minutes), add another 1/4 cup of wine to the pot and repeat the process.

After the wine has evaporated a second time, add 2 cups of beef stock, 3 cups of chicken stock and 1/4 cup of dry sherry to the pot. Scrape up any remaining brown bits, bring the liquid to a simmer and reduce the heat to medium-low. Tie 4 sprigs of fresh thyme together with butchers’ twine (I don’t bother tying herbs together when I make stock, as I strain the liquid through a fine-mesh sieve, but in this case, it’s much easier to pick out of the pot if it’s tied into a bundle), add it to the pot and simmer for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F and set one rack set to the middle. While the soup is simmering, cut the baguette into 1 inch cubes, spread the bread evenly over a rimmed baking sheet, and bake for 20 minutes, stirring a couple times during the drying process.

This is a relatively recent addition to Costco’s bakery repertoire: portion-controlled baguette. Except that it comes in a six pack.

And, if you’re a die-hard traditionalist who advocates for naturally staled baguette rounds, take a minute to ask yourself why.

Because it tastes better? Produces better mouth feel?

Or… because it’s always been done that way.

But where was I?

Oh, yes, putting away my soapbox…

Back in the days when food was scarce and “waste” was a profanity, staled bread was used up in myriad recipes, including French onion soup, because throwing it out would have been the culinary equivalent of a deadly sin. In the western world, at least, modern food distribution has given us highly effective ways to prevent waste, which, (when combined with mindful shopping), should eradicate our need to use up stale bread in the first place. In the meantime, modern science also tells us that bread dried in the oven is molecularly different from bread staled on the counter, and that the former creates a better crouton, and therefore a better dish.

When bread stales at room temperature, despite appearance to the contrary, the moisture in the loaf does not evaporate. Rather, the starches recrystallize and the water in the bread migrates from the starches to the spaces in between, leaving the bread hard and crumbly, but not necessarily dry. When the loaf is reheated, the starch reabsorbs the water, turning the bread gluey. If, however, you heat a fresh loaf in a low oven, the moisture is actually driven off through evaporation, and the dried bread makes better stuffing, better bread pudding (if there is such a thing), and yes, even better French onion soup.

Next, remove the croutons from the oven, set the oven to broil, and divide the soup evenly between 4 French onion soup bowls. To keep the croutons out of the soup, (as an aside, I use croutons, not baguette rounds, because you can spoon them out one at a time with no need to repeatedly push the bread all the way under the liquid’s surface to break it into bite-size pieces. But that’s me; I can’t stand crackers in my soup, either, saturated crackers remind me of pablum, and not in a nostalgic way, either), layer one slice of Swiss cheese over each soup bowl before distributing 1/4 of the croutons over each slice. Sprinkle 1 TBSP of grated grueyere cheese over each bowl and run the soup under the broiler until the cheese is golden brown and bubbly, about 5 – 7 minutes.

Serve piping hot.

Serves 4

3 large red onions
3 TBSP butter
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup dry red wine, divided
2 cups beef stock
3 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup dry sherry
4 sprigs fresh thyme
8 inch chunk of fresh baguette (or one demi-baguette)
4 thin slices Swiss cheese
4 TBSP grated grueyere, divided


  1. Halve onions pole to pole; slice off stem end and peel back skin. Starting at the stem end, slice the onions into 1/8 inch slices.
  2. Melt butter in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When foaming subsides, add onions and stir in salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions are glossy and reduced, and bottom of pot is covered in deep brown crust, about 30 minutes.
  3. Add half the red wine; bring to simmer and scrape up all the brown bits. Simmer until all liquid is evaporated and pot begins to brown again, 3-4- minutes. Add the rest of the wine and repeat.
  4. When the wine has evaporated a second time, add the stocks and the sherry; bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.
  5. preheat the oven to 300 degrees F and set one rack to the middle.
  6. Chop the bread into 1 inch cubes and toast for 20 minutes.
  7. Remove the croutons from the oven; switch the oven to broil. Divide the soup evenly between 4 French onion soup crocks; layer 1 slice of Swiss cheese over each bowl, divide the croutons evenly over the cheese, and sprinkle 1 TBSP of the grueyere over the croutons.
  8. Broil until cheese is golden and bubbly, about 5 – 7 minutes.
  9. Serve piping hot.

© copyright 2012 ingrid baier all rights reserved

improvising with lamb shanks


Always remember: If you’re alone in the kitchen and you drop the lamb, you can always just pick it up. Who’s going to know?
– Julia Child

Today my husband unexpectedly came back from the market with lamb shanks. I order these regularly when we eat out, but I have never made them at home as they have never been readily available in my small town grocery store until now (this is, after all, the heart of cattle country). In the spirit of trying something new, here is my braised duck-leg recipe adapted for lamb shins, the cheapest, toughest and decidedly most delicious cut on the lamb.

To start, coarsely chop up a large red onion, 2 ribs of celery and 2 large carrots, and throw them all into a large oven-proof, flame-proof pot, preferably one with a lid.

Okay, this is the wrong kind of onion; it’s a Walla Walla, sweet and mild, too sweet and mild, in fact, for a long braise. Red onions have more complexity and flavour when caramelized.
Too bad…
It’s what I have.

And the baby carrots aren’t quite right, either…

Actually, “baby” carrots, the Hollywood-has-beens of the vegetable world, are not baby carrots at all, but mature carrots that have been nipped and tucked and plumped with filler (in this case, water) in order to masquerade as baby springs.

The magnum opus of California carrot farmer Mike Yurosek, (who grew weary of culling the two-thirds of his crop that failed to meet exacting consumer standards for root vegetable rectilinearity), this trend towards flawless orange vegetation started back in 1986 with a second-hand industrial green-bean cutter that transformed Yurosek’s crop of cock-eyed carrots into the diminutive, uniformly tapered glossy tangerine cylinders that we know and love today.

I buy these for one reason: my kid will eat them.  In my house, this is not trivial.

The extra water they absorb during processing, however, makes them less than ideal for roasting—or even imparting flavor to a braise—but does that mean I’m going to make a special trip to the store to buy unrefined, rudely proportioned garden carrots with their root hairs still intact?



But I digress.

Imagine that.

Using a small saucepan, squash 8 to 12 cloves of garlic to pop them out of their skins.

Why, yes, that is a lot of garlic; in contemporary post-Twilight pop-culture, one can’t be too careful…

Rinse the garlic off the bottom of the pot with cold water. While you’re at it, rub your hands over the pot’s surface, the molecules in the stainless steel will bind with the sulfur in the garlic and take the smell right off your hands…

Throw the garlic into the pot.

Speaking of pots, finding a covered pot large enough to hold six lamb shanks in a single layer had me in a bit of a quandary; they wouldn’t fit into my regular Dutch Oven and my turkey roaster is a little too flimsy to de-glaze on a gas flame.

So I raided my husband’s camping gear.

The enamelled (red, of course, because red is best) cast-iron Staub Dutch Oven holds four lamb shanks and retails for about $300. The matte black, cast-iron Camp Chef Dutch Oven holds six shanks and cost us less than $50 at our local camping store.

The downside? With the lid on, it weights 25 lbs.

Where was I?

Right. The vegetables.

This is what you have so far:

Throw in a sprig or two of fresh thyme and rosemary, liberally season the shanks with salt and pepper and set them on top of the vegetable mixture.

Adjust the oven rack to the lowest position and roast the shanks, uncovered, in a 425 degree oven for 45 minutes, turning them over half-way through. Keep an eye on the vegetables; if they start to scorch add 1/4 cup of water to the pot.

Once the shanks are nicely browned on both sides, take the pot out of the oven and set it on the largest burner on your stove top. Temporarily remove the  shanks from the pot (another advantage of the Camp Chef Dutch Oven, the lid doubles as a shallow roasting pan, it’s the perfect size to hold the shanks, and it’s going to get dirty anyway).

Add half a bottle of dry red wine and 3 cups of chicken stock to the pot.

$9.98 $8.87 from Costco. And, as an added bonus, you can actually drink it.

Turn the heat to medium high and bring the liquid to a simmer, scraping all the brown bits up off the bottom with a wooden spoon.

Return the shanks to the pot (the liquid should come half-way up the shanks), cover the pot with a layer of aluminum foil (this will make a better seal), and anchor it with the lid:

Put the pot back in the oven, reduce the heat to 275 degrees, and braise for about 3 hours (or until the meat yields easily to a fork, which will vary slightly, depending on the size of your shanks). Turn the

shanks over half-way through cooking, and if the liquid gets scant (less than 2 inches), top it up with 1/2 cup of chicken stock.

Remove the pot from the oven, and transfer the shanks to a large, pre-warmed serving platter. Strain the remaining liquid through a fine-mesh sieve, (here we begin to see the disadvantage of a 25 pound Dutch oven; on the other hand, even straining the liquid out of a Staub is a four-hand endeavour that should require a double indemnity accident clause on your insurance policy), pressing on the solids with the back of a spoon to extract every last drop. Skim the fat off the liquid, transfer it (the liquid, not the fat) to a gravy boat and pass it at the table with the lamb shanks.

Drink the remaining wine.


  1. 1 large red onion, roughly chopped
  2. 2 ribs celery, roughly chopped
  3. 2 mature rectilinear carrots, roughly chopped
  4. 8 – 12 whole cloves of garlic, skins removed
  5. 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  6. 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  7. 6 lamb shanks, liberally seasoned with salt and pepper
  8. 3 cups chicken stock
  9. 1/2 bottle dry red wine


  1. pre-heat the oven to 425°F; adjust the rack to the lowest position
  2. add the onion, celery, carrot and garlic in an even layer in the bottom of a large Dutch Oven; top with the rosemary and thyme
  3. liberally season the shanks with salt and pepper, set shanks in pot on top of vegetables. Roast for 45 minutes, turning half way. If the vegetables start to scorch, add 1/4 cup of water to the pot
  4. remove pot from oven, and set on largest burner on stove top; temporarily remove shanks from pot; turn heat to medium high
  5. pour wine and stock into pot and stir to de-glaze
  6. replace shanks back in pot, cover with foil, anchor foil with lid, and return pot to oven; reduce heat to 275°F and bake for 3 hours, turning shanks over half-way through cooking time. Add up to 1/2 chicken stock if liquid reduces to less than 2 inches
  7. remove pot from oven, transfer shanks to large, pre-warmed serving platter. Strain braising  liquid through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing on the solids with the back of a spoon to extract all the liquid
  8. skim fat off braising liquid, transfer it to a gravy boat and pass it at the table with the shanks

© copyright 2012 ingrid baier all rights reserved