The shift from spring to summer can be subtle in coastal areas of British Columbia. But I always know summer has arrived on Saltspring Island when the crab boat starts to make more frequent runs to the bay below my cottage. From our deck, my dog and I watch as the crew pulls traps out of the water and then roars back to town to sell the fresh bounty.
Environmentalist David Suzuki lists Pacific Dungeness crab among his top 10 sustainable seafood picks. They’re also one of my favourite West Coast treats. I wanted to learn how to catch and prepare some of these crustaceans for myself, but didn’t know where to begin. So I contacted chef Robin Kort, who offers a crab culinary experience through her business, Swallow Tail Tours. Then, on a chilly spring day, I headed to Vancouver’s Jericho Beach for some instruction.
When I arrived at the crescent-shaped beach, just west of the city’s Point Grey neighbourhood, I could see that several others—including a great blue heron—were already fishing. As I walked to the end of the pier to meet Matt Guterres, Kort’s fishing guide, I watched in amazement as one of the men hurled his trap like a champion discus thrower.
City skyscapers dominated the far horizon amid threatening, magenta-coloured clouds as Guterres showed me how to use raw chicken to bait the trap. The circular contraption consists of a net attached to a stainless steel frame that closes like a clamshell to trap the crab. As I inserted the bait, I learned that crab can have fickle palates. “As long as it smells bad, you can try it,” Guterres suggested. “But there’s no telling if they’ll bite.” It also helps to have a good arm. Crab tend to congregate in deep water on the sandy ocean floor.
With a “one-and-a-two-and-a-three,” Guterres flung his trap into the water. I watched its long orange cord trail behind it like a kite tail as it sank to the seabed. Then it was my turn. My first attempt fell short, but my technique improved with each throw. Working with two traps, we cast, then tied our cords to the pier and waited with the other fishermen. Shivering together as a light rain fell, we chatted as we warmed our hands on hot cups of tea.
The cold wind chafed our faces as we slowly pulled the traps out of the water. Then, under the watchful eye of the heron, we opened them on the dock to check our catch. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans requires that female crabs, and those under 165 millimetres in width, be immediately returned to the water, and most of ours went straight back into the drink. But after a few pleasant hours of fishing, I finally netted a good-sized male crab.
Later, Kort showed me how to bake the crab in garlic butter and kaffir lime leaves while I sampled her warm, homemade bread and baba ganoush. Perhaps it was the fact that I’d just caught the crab myself, perhaps it was Kort’s cooking method, but it was the best I’ve ever tasted: sweet, aromatic, and just a bit salty. I can’t wait to try her “catch-and-cook” method at home.
We hope this issue, and the adventures within these pages, will challenge you to try something new this summer, too.