Alaskan king crab season has begun! One of the most breathlessly awaited food events (for those in the know), this is the time of year when the remainder of the world's deadliest catch is shipped live to Vancouver and offered in two-, three- and four-course feasts by every reputable Chinese seafood restaurant with holding tanks large enough to keep them.
Originated by Sun Sui Wah back in the 1980s, Vancouver's king crab festival is not what it used to be. For better and for worse, the days of $8.88 a pound for the king of the sea are over. The season has become shorter (about three weeks now); and the prices are higher (from $16.88 at T&T Supermarket, to $18 and upwards of $25 a pound at fine-dining Cantonese restaurants).
Part of the live Alaskan catch has been siphoned off by China, where growing demand (up 19 per cent last year) has outbid our local buyers.
But drastically lower fishing quotas have also kept this well-managed fishery sustainable. You can eat Alaskan king crab with a clear conscience – it's still Oceanwise approved. Think twice about Russian king crab, which is what you'll be served live almost any other time of the year. (The country's export numbers far outweigh its legal harvest.)
Most Chinese seafood restaurants in the Lower Mainland will offer Alaskan king crab for the next couple of weeks. It's usually served two ways – steamed legs and deep-fried knuckles. My preference for the legs is a thick slathering of soft garlic (although many opt for a sweet egg-white XO sauce, or charred garlic).
I usually order the knuckles with a light "pepper" batter comprised of jalapenos, garlic, onions and some sort of flour. It has a fabulously crispy texture and scorching hot flavour. But this year, I tried steamed ginger knuckles in a first-drawn supreme soy sauce. It was sweeter and softer, but oh-so sublime.
I've been to many of the majors – Sun Sui Wah, Kirin, Sea Harbour – but my favourite of late is Red Star Seafood Restaurant. The exceptional servers clear your plate after almost every shell. And they portion all the extras – noodles tossed with the leftover juices from the steamed leg platters and the carapace meat stirred into a creamy, Macau-style coconut-curry fried rice – into individual servings.