The Gallivanting Gourmand
Greg Duncan
Greg Duncan
is a freelance writer based in the Montreal region. He is particularly keen about good food. In his day job, Greg is the executive director of the Quebec Community Newspapers Association.

His previous columns are archived HERE.

Posted 04.20.05


It's spring, our Gallivanting Gourmand has crabs, and he's not sorry

The first crocuses sprung up in the flowerbed this past week and I realized I had completely missed maple syrup season.

When the sap flows Quebecers mark the arrival of spring with ritual visits to sugar shacks. The thing is, I still have five cans of the elixir in the back of my cupboard from the previous season. Apparently, producers have a lot of the stuff left over, too. Maybe we are growing indifferent to something as plentiful and as commonly produced here at home.

A visit to a local Saturday Market this weekend confirmed this theory. A lonely gent displayed his maple products proudly while a throng of potential patrons paraded by with few takers. I observed this phenomenon for some time before approaching him for some taffy that he was making on the spot.

Sweet and steamy syrup was carefully being ladled along a bed of snow to be curled onto Popsicle sticks at a buck a pop. He offered some maple butter and I felt sad for his plight. The taffy would draw them in as a promotion but I suspect he was not going to make enough sales on other items to cover the costs of his market stall for the day. Quebecers can be fickle folks, it seems.

However, another vendor at this market had gathered a crowd with another seasonal item that is perhaps lesser known and for me, an excellent discovery.

Snow Crab season has begun and, judging by the volume of visitors madly jostling to get some, this just may be a trend that replaces maple as a spring ritual.

If you hail from icy shores then you already know that Snow crab, or Queen crabs, as they are also known, have represented an important source of income and table fare for fishermen and their families ever since cod moratoriums.

They are a worthy harvest of the very deep and are a delicate and sweet supplement to add to any spring feast. The Snow Crab season can run from April to November but get them while they are best, which is now.

A little journey to Marché Maisonneuve in Montreal's East End and a visit to Capitaine Crabe will provide you with a few spidery sea creatures for the table.

We took the advice of a transplanted New Brunswicker who knows his fish and the result was six 1-pound crabs hitting some boiling water by supper at my house.

I was daunted at the prospect of putting my killing skills to the test. However, like lobster, once you get past the point of no return and plunge them headfirst into a rolling boil all sense of guilt disappears and lip-licking begins.

We had a spring feast here that I suggest you try.

A little Louisiana-style eating saw us laying out the table with newspaper and hot sauce, drawn garlic butter, and lemon wedges with some roasted pesto potatoes for good measure.

No fancy anything, just good old messy eats with lots of napkins and baby bibs that we picked up at the dollar store.

A chilled bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and cold beer paired with a salad of greens. I'll mention that guests - who said it was a distraction from the task at hand - largely ignored the salad. I agree, as a good Snow crab is enough to keep you busy.

You'll need some form of picks and something to crack the shells with. Again, a trip to the dollar store will get you some bibs and some tools for under ten bucks for a party of six.

The crab will cost you but the rest is easy. I got mine for a cheap six dollars a pound, which is worth well the journey to find some.

A crab and a half per person provides two hours of fun and games at the table and at the end you just roll up the newspaper with all its messy contents and turf it.

I'll admit that getting to the meat requires a little skill and patience but this is part of the fun.

Washing up with leftover lemon slices will rid you of any lingering olfactory memories.

The recipe for the week is simple. Have a snow crab feast with friends.

You need fresh snow crab, lemons, bibs, large pot of boiling water, white wine and beer, butter, newspaper, dollar-store tools and a big garbage bag.

Let you fingers do the rest as you celebrate Spring like a mariner, despite your landlubber status. You won't be sorry.