It's winter in Alaska, and it means a lot of cool stuff: skiing, northern lights and fresh crab, to name just three.
Since this is a food column, we'll focus on the crab. But I'm pretty sure a night that features skiing under the aurora and a feast of crab legs would pretty much go down as the best day ever.
The December issue of Saveur magazine features a story by Corey Arnold, who served as a deckhand on the Rollo, a 107-foot crab boat in the Bering Sea. The story is a play-by-play of what it's like on the frigid Alaska waters.
Here are some excerpts:
"It's the beginning of a brutally cold crab-fishing season in January off the coast of Alaska, and the sea is steaming from the clash of 18-degree air and 33-degree seawater. Freezing spray coats every inch of our boat with a translucent layer of ice. On days like this, crabs must be landed quickly and sorted into the onboard holding tanks before their limbs freeze and snap off like deadwood.
"Our first crab pot of the day ... soars toward the surface, pulled by a line that pops and whines as the pot ascends. ... The pot explodes out of the water and slams wildly against the side of the boat. A thousand sharp, slender jointed legs protruding through the webbing are the telltale sign of an exceptional catch, and we all erupt in hoots and hollers of triumph.
"Even though we're miles from the nearest restaurant ourselves, one of the perks of being a commercial crab fisherman is that the luxurious meat we're being paid to harvest is also a key component of our maritime diet. Few people on earth get the chance to savor Alaskan crab this fresh."
And while most of us don't savor the idea of working on a crab boat -- even for the freshest feast on earth -- the article includes seven recipes for this wonderful Alaska treat. One of the recipes is below. For the others, check out the magazine.
Arnold is also the author of "Fish-Work: The Bering Sea," published by Nazraeli Press in 2011.
Seafood at the store
Avoid the boat experience and head to New Sagaya Markets for tasty Alaska crab.
"The retail boys will be doing their best to help everyone bring in the New Year with a bang," said New Sagaya's John Jackson. "Alaskan red king crab -- this season's product -- which was excellent is still on hand for Jan. 1." That's right, New Year's Day. Jackson said the markets will be open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Wednesday. "Alaskan golden king crab is still on sale at $15.99 per pound and has been meaty as well this year."
Other options include large 21/25 size shrimp at $10.99 per pound and Hawaiian style poki at $9.99 per pound.
"From Hawaii, we are bringing in fresh sashimi-grade tuna as well as marlin and other fresh exotics such as mahi-mahi and sailfish," Jackson said. "Fresh Alaskan oysters will be in our live tanks, along with manila clams. Don't forget the live Atlantic lobsters as well."
The Center Market at the Mall at Sears is closed on New Year's Day but it's open for business on Saturday. The market is open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays.
The Rempel Family Farm will have 11 varieties of potatoes, sugar pumpkins, a wide variety of squash, beets, cabbage, parsnips, rutabagas, daikon radish and carrots.
Alaska Vegan & Gluten Free will be offering cupcakes for the first time on Saturday. Other items available include San Marzano tomato sauce, split pea soup, carrot ginger soup, roasted beets and sweet potato soup, red beans and brown rice with pico de gallo, fresh pico de gallo, corn chips and petit baguettes.
Alex Davis of A.D. Farm is looking forward to skipping Wednesday's market on the holiday but he'll be back at it on Saturday.
He will have most of the regular items, including a large variety of pork cuts, eggs and storage vegetables, including beets, carrots, cabbage, parsnips and potatoes.
Patrick Johnson will be selling shrimp and scallops from his truck at the former parking lot of the Haute Quarter Grill in Eagle River on Thursday, in Anchorage at the Lucky Wishbone on Friday and at the Mall at Sears on Saturday.
Crab and fennel stew
Note: For this robust stew, meaty crab legs are cooked in their shells in a fragrant tomato-based broth.
¼ cup olive oil
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 ribs celery, thinly sliced
2 large shallots, thinly sliced
1 large bulb fennel, trimmed and thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
¼ cup dry white wine
3 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp finely chopped thyme
1 tsp piment d'Espelette (can be ordered online at oliviersandco.com; search under "seasonings")
2 bay leaves
4 cups fish or chicken stock
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes in juice, crushed by hand
2 pounds precooked king or snow crab legs, defrosted if frozen and cut into 3-inch pieces
2 tbsp roughly chopped basil
2 tbsp roughly chopped parsley
Country bread for serving (optional)
Heat oil in an 8-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic, celery, shallots, fennel, salt and pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 10 minutes.
Add wine; cook until reduced by half, 1-2 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, thyme, piment d'Espelette and bay leaves; cook, stirring, until slightly caramelized, about 3 minutes.
Add stock and tomatoes; boil. Reduce heat to medium; cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce is slightly thick, 15-20 minutes.
Stir in crab; cook until shells are bright red and meat is tender, 2-3 minutes. Discard bay leaves.
Stir in basil and parsley; serve with bread, if you like.
Steve Edwards lives and writes in Anchorage. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.