Authentic Eats, Long Island Streets: King of Crabs

Owner Frank Palermo proudly displays the “deadliest catch” with what looks like a tremendous—but actually typical—leg

Owner Frank Palermo of Claws proudly displays the “deadliest catch” with what looks like a tremendous—but actually typical—leg.

Deadliest Catch marathons were an inadvertent “thing” at my father-in-law’s house when my husband and I were still dating.

As massive gales and waves rose on his living room TV, we felt better about the cold wintry winds blowing through the hills of the North Shore. And so, nearly a decade later and familiar with the challenges and monumental labor needed to harvest the daddy longlegs of the sea, we were thrumming with excitement at the prospect of actually having the “deadliest catch” right off the coast of wild Alaska.

It was my 30th birthday, and in late July we took a cruise to America’s Last Frontier, Alaska. It was too warm to spot moose or bear, but Alaskan king crab? That was guaranteed.

Stepping off the tender to the streets of Juneau, the only state capital in the U.S. inaccessible by land, we made a beeline for Tracy’s King Crab Shack, home of the “best legs in town.” And by golly, they certainly were!

The Bering Sea red king crab was our top priority; at $24 each without the claw and $110 for half a crab, we placed our orders with the highest of expectations. At the counter, clouds of steam billowed in the crisp ocean air, and we caught glimpses of the legs before we sat down at the dockside communal tables. The anticipation (and hunger!) had me fidgeting like an in-season salmon that literally jumped on the local lines. I leapt up to retrieve my feast of two king crab legs, four crab cakes and a bowl of crab bisque the second I was called.

Boy, did Alaska deliver.

The bisque was delectable, cream-based and chock-full of local king crab, as promised. The crab cakes were adorable bite-sized pops to dip in a remoulade-type of sauce. But the whole legs? They were better than I’d even imagined.

The meat was thick yet light, subtly salted by the seawater it was boiled in and so naturally delicious, the clarified butter for dipping became a total afterthought.

Succulent, bright white flesh burst from a flaming red shell, scenting the air with crustacean sweetness at the first crack. The meat was thick yet light, subtly salted by the seawater it was boiled in and so naturally delicious, the clarified butter for dipping became a total afterthought. The garlic rolls and coleslaw were completely forgotten as we dug in, slowly pulling smooth chunks of crab out from legs the length of my entire forearm and the width of half my wrist. It was decadent, luxurious … and sad, since my husband and I both knew this experience could not be duplicated. This was the Champagne of crab legs, “bottled” straight at the source—what chance would we have of sitting at a picnic table on the water cracking open the world’s most premium grade of crab again?

Bigger isn’t always better, but when it comes to Alaskan king crab, monstrous is best.

Bigger isn’t always better, but when it comes to Alaskan king crab, monstrous is best.

We were never so happy to be proven wrong than when we discovered that Claws Seafood Market carried true Alaskan king crab legs. Not the half-hollow snow crab legs so common to steam tables at buffets or all-you-can-eats. Not runty cuts of king crab, broken and marked with yellow shoulders from tired, later-round processing. And not flakes of what you hope is actually king crab, shredded and made into crab cakes or sushi. Claws has the real deal, and the setting of a gravel and shell eating area and canal views in West Sayville very nearly brought us right back to Juneau … and to our knees in foodie bliss.

Year-round thanks to longtime seafood industry relationships, Frank Palermo’s two shops source only lower-number lots from a plant he has visited several times, and he demands better quality, earlier process shipments. Because king crab legs are flash-cooked on board then frozen in brine, the same water is used over and over again, getting progressively saltier as the batches rise in lot number. The benefit to getting the crab from Claws is immediately obvious: Its sweeter, delicately scented meat is a joy to behold, lump knuckle meat blossoming in brilliant white—not the shrunken, mass-market yellow typically found—from the pillowy end of gargantuan, knobbly, crimson legs.

Each king crab leg is easily close to a full pound, several ounces heftier than even what I’d had at volume-based Tracy’s in Alaska, and sold completely ready-to-cook. Frozen deeply just the once and never thawed, the flavor is uncompromised and unadulterated, providing an authentic taste of Alaska, down to its water and steam. Offered at a tremendously reasonable market price, especially given the distance and speed the seafood needs to travel, the king crab from Claws is definitely a royal treat. For slightly less of a splurge, smaller legs from the same species of crab is also available by the pound, and “broken” ones, simply separated at the joint, in a mix of sizes runs for under $15 a pound.

With a three-day turnaround for requests and all-year availability, Alaska’s authentic finest has never been easier to enjoy on Long Island. As they say at the shop, “Get crackin’!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A native Long Islander, former food editor in New Orleans, and current copywriter in the travel industry, Su-Jit Lin-DeSimone has four great passions in life, and they all feed (!) into each other: food, travel, fitness, and the written word. All she wants to do in life is to simply to see all the sights, taste all the flavors, do all the things ... and tell everyone.