One of the great things about crab is how versatile it is. It’s great just steamed and eaten out of the shell. If you’re feeling schnazzy, you can dip it in garlic butter or aioli. A simple chilled crab cocktail is delicious. Of course, there are crab cakes and stuffed mushrooms; its great on salads and in pasta dishes. Unlike most seafood, it marries well with cheese and dairy…. hell, crab can even sing and dance.
I’m getting ahead of myself though, because before you can hear those show tunes and start making dinner, you have to lure those crab away from the red headed chick in the shell bra, and get them in the traps. This season, that means a shift in tactics.
This unusually dry year has meant adjusting our approach in just about all of our local fishing. I spoke in my last post about changes I’ve needed to make to my river sockeye fishing. That’s to be expected of course, the rivers are very directly and very obviously affected by the lack of rain and snow melt.
What I didn’t think of ahead of time was that this was going to impact my crabbing. You see, Dungeness crab are drawn to areas where rivers and streams empty into the salt water. They like to dine on various bits of delicious refuse that gets washed out into the salt from said streams.
And because of that, those areas tend to be popular crabbing spots. In fact, the marina where I moor my boat is right next to a river mouth. The flats just beyond breakwater are easily accessible to people with even very small boats. On weekends, you can almost walk across the harbor on top of crab trap buoys. That’s a little more competition than I like.
My usual tactic is to travel a few miles away from the marina, to a little area that is between the outlet points of two small creeks. The distance from any boat launches keeps the crowd of traps to a reasonable number, and those two creeks provide enough runoff to keep pulling crab into the area … usually. The extra dry cycle our weather pattern has been on has turned the flow of those creeks into barely a trickle. The result was that after a strong opening few days of the season, the crabbing there started to slow down significantly.
All right, so my out-of-the way spot isn’t very productive right now, and the places that are pulling the crab in are being heavily fished. The solution: give those crab the “Long Deep”.
You see, most folks around here drop their pots in 50 – 80 feet of water. That’s part of why so many pots are clustered together outside the marina. Most people are creatures of habit, and I’ll gladly use that to my own advantage. I just hope no one is foolish enough to write anything on the internet and explain to everyone they should change their tactics.
Hey … wait a minute.
Anyhow, I put 200 feet of line on my pots (the Long) and that lets me drop them out where it’s 150-160 feet deep (the Deep). In the case of the sloping flats near the marina, that places my traps hundreds of yards, maybe thousands, away from the crowd of other pots. Plus, it means that those crab that are just moving into the area, drawn by the river mouth and the scent of all the bait from all those traps, will be passing by my pots before encountering most of the others.
Game – Set – Crab
Now that I’ve established that I’m catching crab, let’s return to the cooking, shall we? I’m guessing you know where I’m heading, based on the title of this post and the photo at the beginning. Never let it be said that I bury the lede.
One thing you need to be careful of when you’re cooking with crab is that although its flavor is very good, it’s also rather mild. Heavily spiced dishes and strong flavors can easily steamroll over the taste of crab. Traditional enchiladas, with a red chili sauce, don’t leave much room for the taste of crab to shine.
It was when I saw my friend Brian share photos of his chicken sour cream enchiladas that the light bulb went off over my head. Right then, it occurred to me that right after I fixed the short in that overhead light, I was going to make sour cream enchiladas with crab.
The sauce is the key to sour cream enchiladas. Essentially it’s a thickened broth, a velouté in culinary terms, with mild green chilies and sour cream added in. You can use store bought chicken broth, although if you happen to have any of fish stock on hand, this would be a good time use it.
Most recipes I’ve seen call for canned green chilies. If you’re so inclined, go ahead and substitute a 14 oz can of diced green chilies, but I recommend using fresh ones as I describe in the recipe. The rule of thumb is, the milder the flavors you are working with, then the higher quality those flavors need to be.
One more pro tip before we get into the recipe: it’s a good idea to buy tortillas that are roughly the width of your baking dish. If they are too large, you’re going to want to trim them before filling to fit properly.
Crab Sour Cream Enchiladas
2 each poblano or Anaheim chiles
1 Tbs vegetable oil
1/4 cup butter
3/4 cup finely chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 cup chicken broth or fish stock
1 1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
kosher salt & pepper, to taste
8 flour tortillas
1 pound of cooked crabmeat
8 oz shredded pepper jack or plain Monterey jack cheese
1/2 tomato, diced
1/8 cup sliced scallions
Coat the chilies with the vegetable oil and then char them on a hot BBQ grill or over an open flame burner. Once they are well charred on all sides, put them in a mixing bowl and cover them with plastic wrap. Let them sit for 15 minutes.
This allows meat of the pepper to steam soft inside the bowl, while it’s picking up more of that smoky char flavor from the skin. Also this helps the skin separate a bit from the pepper, which makes it easier to clean.
Once they’ve rested for 15 minutes, clean off the charred skin, the stem, the seeds, and white “sponge” from the inside. DON’T rinse them under water to clean them. It’s OK to leave some bits of skin and some seeds still on the cleaned chiles. It’s NOT OK to rinse away flavor with water.
After they are cleaned, dice the chilies and set them aside.
In a medium sauce pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté, stirring frequently, until they turn translucent, about 4 minutes.
Stir in the garlic and sauté for one more minute. Reduce the heat to medium low. Add the flour and stir in thoroughly. Using a whisk, slowly mix in the broth, making sure to whisk out any lumps of flour.
Bring the sauce to a low simmer, and allow it to cook for 5 minutes. Whisk in the sour cream, diced chiles, and half the cilantro. Take the pot off the heat, and season the sauce with salt & pepper to taste. I suggest starting with 1/2 a teaspoon of each, and then taste and add more if needed.
Spread 1/2 cup of the sour cream sauce on the bottom of your baking dish.
Lay out the tortillas and place 2 oz of crabmeat, 2 oz of cheese, and 1 Tbs of the sauce inside each, making sure to spread the filling out evenly across the widest part of the tortilla.
Roll the tortillas and line them up in the baking dish.
Cover the enchiladas with the remaining sauce.
Bake in 350° oven until bubbling and lightly browned, about 40 minutes.
Once it’s out of the oven, garnish the top with the diced tomatoes, sliced scallions, and the remaining cilantro.
You may want to let these rest a couple minutes after they come out of the oven, so that the filling isn’t too hot & runny. Good luck with that though, they smell as good as they look.
And the taste of that sour cream sauce only seems to bring the crab flavor out even more.
This is a keeper recipe folks, get on it.
Oh, and if you happen to have any extra sauce left over, combine it with some more crab & a bit of cheese, and stuff it into mushroom caps. 15 minutes in the oven later, and you have another winner.