From Crab to Salmon
If April 15 is a day of lamentation, it's not merely because of taxes. It's also the day that the crab season unofficially ends in Northern California. Until mid-November, when the new season opens, we're stuck with frozen crabmeat (at $20 a pound).
The season just ending was "very good," according to John Viglizzo of Viglizzo Meats at Tower Market. "The supply was very consistent, and the price was stable -- from $3.99 to $4.49 a pound, retail."
Local Dungeness crabs were also unusually big this year, says Viglizzo, who treks to Fisherman's Wharf every morning to negotiate the day's supply of crabs.
"In years past you might see three or four 3-pound crabs in an entire season," he says. "This year I might see a half-dozen in one catch. One day, fully 40 percent of the crabs I saw were 3-pounders."
In the world of food, bigger isn't always better. Flavor can get muddied, diluted, or lost in the larger sizes.
But Viglizzo thinks the bigger crabs "taste every bit as good" as the smaller ones, and he believes that the Dungeness crabs harvested locally are sweeter than those from Oregon, Washington, and points north.
"They can be a little bland," he says. "Crabs are bottom-feeders, after all, and we have better garbage down here."
One consolation of April 15: The local salmon season opens. So far this year the salmon catch has been limited to sports fishermen -- and, says Viglizzo, they've been "limiting out. It's a good sign" that there are plenty of fish out there.
Salmon fortunes are likely to rise in the next few years, he says, because three of the last four winters have been rainy, and the fish need the "high water -- the good runoff from the mountains -- in order to spawn."
Even during drought and other natural catastrophes, salmon is widely available, because the farming techniques have become "a pretty exact science," Viglizzo says. Farmed salmon "has a little more body fat; it's oilier. You can see the white veils in the flesh."
Oil means moistness and flavor, but "all things considered," Viglizzo says, "the local chinook king salmon is a little firmer, a little fresher, and tastes a little better" than the competition. It's not cheap -- fillets typically run $7.99 a pound -- but the price isn't exorbitant, either. And maybe -- because the local fishing industry very much obeys the law of supply and demand -- an abundance will bring the cost down a bit.