Better Than Bacon: Fresh Alaskan King Crab from Dirk's Fish in Chicago
I once spent an entire day during the summer sitting on my couch watching an entire season of Deadliest Catch, the reality show about crab fisherman. The chain smoking of boat captain Phil Harris of the crab boat Cornelia Marie (which continued in the midst of a pulmonary embolism) and the dysfunctional feuding of the brothers Hillstrand on the Time Bandit were such an engaging spectacle, it hardly mattered that there was also the threat that at any moment some fisherman might get beamed in the head by a thousand pound crab pot or sucked in the Bering Sea to his icy death by an errant rope (allegedly fatality among crab fisherman is 90 times the fatality rate of the average worker).
Though I would never have the fortitude to join those dudes, I envied them, for they had unfettered access to my number one desert island food: fresh Alaskan King Crab. Fresh Alaskan King crab has lush plump flesh and an inherent butteriness that might make you think twice about even dipping it in any additional melted fat. I think it's better than foie, bacon, lobster, and maybe even truffles (I have a debate raging in my head on that count).
When to Get It
You may think you've had it, but odds are you never have. To preserve a dwindling population, quotas and a somewhat fixed fishing season were established in Alaska to ensure the future of the crab. As such, all fishing for Alaskan King Crab takes place during a relatively small window starting in early October and ending, in a good year, toward the end of December. The other nine months of the year, everyone is pretty much selling you flash frozen crab. If you're lucky, that crab hasn't been doctored with preservatives like sodium tri-polyphosphate, as is often the case with Alaskan King Crab found at major megachains and discount big box retailers, which make the texture mushy and waterlogged.
Where to Get It in Chicago
Even in season, many restaurants and retailers continue to sell frozen crab and don't bother establishing relationships with the fisherman to ensure never frozen catch. As such, you'll still have a tough time finding it. In the Chicago area, you can score it at Bob Chinn's (which will serve you a whole live King Crab if you're willing to throw down the $120 or so), Shaw's Crab House, and Joe's Stone Crab. Shaw's will even ship it to you at home in five pound increments.
My favorite, and only local Chicago retailer of the stuff I know of, is Dirk's Fish in Lincoln Park. Right now, fishmonger Dirk Fucik is getting the stuff flown fresh out of Alaska every Thursday. It's usually gone by Saturday evening, and you have to wait another four days to get a fix, so call ahead. It's so good that were I rich I'd use it to replace holiday game birds, and urge Obama to pardon all the turkeys and make this the new national Thanksgiving dish.
2070 N. Clybourn Avenue, Chicago IL 60614 (map)