Vanessa Chang
(A Glutton with Brains)


a glutton with brains

Here's To Feeding Your Inner Nerd: Dungeness Crab Noodles


Somehwere between Kalyn's fragrant curried chicken, pilaf, and asparagus, and Erin's vanilla spiked marscapone with berries, I made an epiphany that I've made made many times. I am a food nerd.

I should tell you all that as cliche as it sounds, most of my memories revolve around food. Scents, flavors, textures, full meals. Anyone who has had a prolonged conversation with me knows that I have to interject at some point with some food observation or useless bit of food trivia (Thank you, Larousse Gastronomique), if the topic isn't outright about food anyway. I totally believe that if my physics classes involved food, I would've aced every painful course in my lifetime and perhaps maybe even made it into medical school. Meh, maybe not.

But I take trips just to eat. And when I share anecdotes about those trips I know that my friends, as much as they claim to love me, roll their eyes. As if me saying "This one time at The Slanted Door, I had this incredible Dungeness crab with cellophane noodle dish..." is tantamount to Michelle Flaherty blabbing for the thousandth time "This one time at band camp..."

Recently, I've been getting a pretty bad hankering for Dungeness crab. Scratch that. I don't know why I said "recently." I ALWAYS crave Dungeness. Whole specimens cut into quarters and flash sauteed with black bean sauce, garlic, and ginger. Marinated the way my mom does it, with green onions, garlic, chile flakes, soy sauce, and sesame oil, and eaten like a ceviche. My latest Dungeness memory evolved from my last trip to the Bay Area. I was with a couple of friends in search of lunch. We were playing hooky and tired of shopping at H&M and playing each other on the Urban Outfitters' Tetris machine while Jared looked for jeans. So we walked down to the Ferry Building and got a table at The Slanted Door. The rest, as it's said, is Vanessa food-history.

My inner nerd remembers a mess of noodles. They were scattered like a pile of hay that just fought the wind. And in the soft tangled mess were morsels of dungeness crab. I could hear a few cellophane strands still sizzling from the stove. It seemed oddly kinetic coming from a such a bland looking dish. In all honesty, when the server brought it to the table, we thought perhaps we'd ordered the wrong thing. How could that taste good?

The memory's source, lower left-hand corner.

Oh that cliche, "never judge a book by its cover," rang annoyingly true. But it's usually the least expected source that provides such happy memories. Kind of like begrudgingly agreeing to pick up a friend's friend from the airport, throwing a wrench into an entirely busy day. But you do it anyway, bitching the entire drive there. Then you pick up said friend-of-friend and POW suddenly this general annoyance turns out quite possibly to be the love of your life...

This dish was that good. Okay, almost.

The square platter before me was so elegant and mild. It didn't need to be brash and attention grabbing. Crab meat, sweet and briny from the ocean, paired with the sweet heat of ginger. Not a trace of acidity. Just a bare suggestion of garlic, some allium-freshness from green onion, and a hefty dose of good wok hey.

Ginger in fact is one of my favorite things. It looks like a wise old root with its knobby sections and neutral color. But, peel away the papery skin and agitate its flesh and you've unleashed a spicy nature that belies its meek appearance. It is unabashedly bold. Ready to take center stage in a cake or custard or ready to play up the supportive role with garlic and a myriad of spices that when mixed together sparks the mind to think of "mystery" and everything exotic—experienced and imagined. I love it for that.

And I love this dish, even if I don't have the recipe. Or a precise memory. The flavors here allude to a happy occasion when I was sitting at a table with friends, playing hooky, and enjoying some badly needed sunshine. This was a moment my inner food nerd absolutely shined.

Dungeness Crab with Cellophane Noodles from A Memory
I make no claim that this recipe is anything like what I had at The Slanted Door. But for someone who's been having food flashbacks and, at times, severe cases of withdrawal, it's pretty damn close. And pretty damn good.

1/2 of a 4-ounce package thin cellophane or rice noodles * 1 to 2 tablespoons canola or peanut oil * 2 cloves or garlic, crushed * 1 2-inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and grated to a near-puree state * 1 small red chile pepper, sliced (optional) * 1/4 pound Dungeness crab meat * 2 tablespoons fish or soy sauce * 4 green onions, chopped (only to the barely green bits)

Break up the cake of dried noodles into rough thirds and place into a large bowl. Bring 6 cups of water to a boil and pour over broken noodles. Stir a bit and let sit until almost cooked through, about 10 minutes. When done, drain well. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat a sautepan or wok (lucky you) over high heat. When super hot, add the oil and turn the pan to coat the surface. Working quickly, add crushed garlic, ginger, and chile pepper, if using. Give it a quick stir—you should smell alot going on in the pan by now. Add the crab meat, fish or soy sauce, and the chopped green onions. Stir well for about a minute to mix evenly. Add the drained broken noodles to the pan and toss well.

Serve in individual bowls, one big serving platter, it doesn't matter. Just be sure it's piping hot and still sizzling from the pan. Garnish with the chopped green bits of the leftover green onions. Serves 2.

Now, quickly feed that inner nerd of yours.