Freshness is of course the quality in seafood that we prize above all others, with the place of origin in second. I had a friend ask me recently where I buy my fish, since he spends a lot of time in Maine and is thus used to surpassingly fresh fish. Out here in the sticks it can be hard to find anything even approaching that quality. I told him that befriending the fish guy at a decent market is a good start, because they will usually order something for you specially and call you when it comes in on one of their two or so delivery days in a given week. That way, you know you’re getting something that’s as newly out of the ocean as it’s possible to get when you live away from the coast. You can also find out when their shellfish arrive and grab a bag of mussels on that day, rather than after they have sat on crushed ice for a week. I once bought mussels and every single one in the bag was dead.
The other good strategy is to check out their freezer. I always do, and often walk away with some treasure or another that is both sustainably sourced and very good to eat. Plus, I can toss it in the freezer when I get home and not have the pressure of needing to it right away that one has with beautiful fresh seafood. Besides these lovely blue crabs, I can get squid and sardines that are quite nice for Thai-style stir fries or escabeche, to give an example for each one. Once I found Alaskan king crab legs for next to nothing; I have no idea if they were mislabeled or just on sale, but I snapped them up. These blue crabs were nine bucks for a bag of three. Not exactly cheap, but far from extravagant divided by three people.
I gave them a semi-Malaysian treatment. I chucked some onion into a hot wok with some oil, then added the crabs, then a mound of chopped kale. The sauce was chicken stock, miso, tamarind paste, rice vinegar, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, mango juice, smoked salsa, tomato paste, and maple syrup; I poured it in, tossed everything to coat, then let it bubble for a few minutes. Before serving, I added a big handful of cilantro and stirred it in.
Bowls of sticky rice offered the clattering crabs a soft landing, and I spooned copious sauce all over them. This is a messy way to eat, but it’s awfully fun to cut and crack the carapace to get sweet morsels out of all the crannies. Sticky rice loves a thick sauce, and so do your fingers. Put out extra napkins, and even finger bowls if that’s how you live your life. And save the shells, because they’ll make a crustaceous stock for paella or risotto or a nice soup.