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Holiday Dinner Idea: Dungeness Crab from Bodega Bay

Many people think of turkey, roast beef and ham as holiday dinner staples. But in Sonoma County, with its expanses of Pacific Ocean coast, we’ve got another meat in mind: Dungeness crab.

With the tasty crustaceans hauled in fresh from winter through spring, crab is a Wine Country locavore feast. And it can be simple, since the sweet meat shines so well all on its own. All you need is cooked crabs, salad, sauces, a bottle or two of white wine, a loaf of sourdough bread and dessert.

Some first-time crab chefs may be intimidated by the clawed creatures, but they needn’t be. Many Sonoma seafood purveyors offer advice on how to enjoy it, with no fuss or muss. At G&G Markets, Pacific Markets and Oliver’s, for example, it’s one-stop shopping for customers to pick up the already cleaned and cooked crabs. The fresh seafood is delivered up to twice daily, plucked straight from Bodega Bay.

While you’re there, grab some simple dips of Crosse & Blackwell cocktail sauce, lemons, butter and pepper, or artichoke jalapeño dip from the deli.

For a more do-it-yourself approach, the staff at Spud Point Crab Company in Bodega Bay details the simple process of humanely killing and cooking fresh crab:

Do NOT put the live crab in boiling water. First, flip the crab onto its back and you’ll see a triangular tail piece pointing up towards the crab’s head.  Lift this back fully, away from the claws, and you’ll see a small cone shaped hole.  Driving a sharp chopstick or screwdriver into the hole, with a sharp tap from a rolling pin, kills the crab instantly.  Do this quickly and decisively, and with enough force to drive the spike right through the crab until it reaches the shell on the other side.

Then place the crab in enough boiling, heavily salted water so that the crab is completely submerged, with an additional 4 or 5 inches of water on top. Cover and cook for about 15 minutes; 10 to 12 minutes for smaller ones, up to 20 minutes for large ones.

It’s great fun to simply dump the hot or cold cooked crab out on a butcher paper lined table, and dig in with your hands. But for a more elegant table, you can also make it into a sumptuous bisque, enhanced with another seasonal delight of mushrooms. Chanterelles in particular are wonderful -  they have a mild flavor, vaguely reminiscent of apricots, blending superbly with crab. Too, their firm texture keeps them from falling apart during cooking.

This recipe from Lambert Bridge Winery in Healdsburg is sure to become another delicious holiday tradition.


Dungeness Crab & Chanterelle Bisque


  • ¾ lb chanterelle mushrooms
  • 1 T oil
  • 1 T butter
  • 2 shallots minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ¼ C Cognac or Sherry
  • 1 C Lambert Bridge Chardonnay
  • 4 C fish or vegetable stock
  • 2 C heavy cream
  • pinch cayenne
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • ½ t Worcestershire Sauce
  • ¾ lb picked lump crab meat
  • 2 T chopped parsley


Clean mushrooms by rubbing them with a damp cloth. Roughly chop and set aside. In a stock pot, heat the olive oil and butter together, add shallots and bay leaf and sauté until soft. Stir in mushrooms, pour cognac over the mixture, and ignite. When the flame has subsided deglaze with Chardonnay. Let wine reduce by half, add stock, heavy cream, cayenne, and season with salt and pepper.

In a separate pan, melt 3 T butter and whisk in 5 T flour to make a roux. Cook over medium heat stirring constantly for 3-5 minutes. Whisk roux into soup 1 tablespoon at a time. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook, stirring until the bisque thickens. Stir in lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, crabmeat and parsley. Adjust seasonings.

Pairs well with Lambert Bridge Chardonnay

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