Where to Find Live Snow Crabs in New York City
It doesn't take much luck to find snow crab being served at a casino buffet in Vegas or Atlantic City, but finding live snow crabs is a different story. Even in New York, the city where you're supposed to be able to find everything, you're more likely to spot them on reruns of Discovery's Deadliest Catch than in your local seafood market. That is, unless you hit Chinatown and visit Steven Wong of Aqua Best Inc.
If the name sounds familiar, you may recall Wong from his connection to what has been dubbed the Rolls Royce of lobster: Fourchu. Wong is the friendly conch, crab, and lobster importer that Dorothy Hamilton, CEO and founder of The International Culinary Center, had bringing in 10,000 pounds a week of Fourchu lobster from a tiny fishing village on Cape Breton Island off Nova Scotia. Now, Wong is importing 1,000 pounds of snow crabs from Nova Scotia to New York City every week. And sure enough, he got the idea to import the large, long-legged crabs when he first started working with Fourchu lobster fishermen.
"When I first started to talk to them, they were ending their live snow crab season and they asked if we would want to try them, but by the time we were ready to receive shipment, they had already finished their season," he explained. "I've been traveling to Canada for business to inspect processing facilities for my wholesale frozen snow crab season but wondered how it would taste unfrozen and uncooked. I asked a manager to try a live snow crab. Instantly I was blown away by how sweet it tastes."
But while eating snow crabs in New York City, Wong could only find frozen, pre-cooked crab clusters. The flavor was good, but after eating fresh snow crabs, he couldn't go back. Wong's recent success with Fourchu inspired him to try bringing in other live seafood like snow crabs that may not be as easy for other suppliers to obtain.
Live snow crabs go for $9.99 a pound at Aquabest Inc. in Chinatown.
"We're focused on finding new staple seafood products from sources that can be as fresh as possible. I'm currently only importing about 1,000 pounds a week because its a relatively new item for the New York City market."
Wong said that the season is from April to November and that he'll be retailing the snow crabs at $9.99 a pound, but is selling them wholesale for less. "There is not much of a margin," he noted. "I'm just trying to break a new market for them."
So now that you have the crabs live, what's the best way to cook them? "I prefer steaming snow crabs to preserve the integrity of the flavor." But they did give grilling them a shot, too. "The grill leaves a smoky flavor, but the snow crab retains the sweetness," Wong said. "It was very good."
Grilling the crabs begot another preparation, an inspired one that egg- and crab tamale-lovers will find pretty cool. Wong's sales manager Jimmy Lam had the thought after cracking open the crab and seeing the tamales on the inside of the top part, to replace it on the grill tamales side up and to crack an egg into it. The egg and tamales set up like a slightly crabby custard after being covered on the grill for just a few minutes (we tried it, it's delicious).
Wong is counting on the fact that having live product will inspire experimentation, "I did some Google searches for how to cook snow crab, but I couldn't find many recipes. That's why I've been just experimenting with new ideas and giving crabs to chefs to try to give me new ideas. It's one way to entice chefs to try experimenting with new products — they may be the first to create a new recipe."
What's next? Spiny lobster from the Dominican Republic. Wong says he just finished building a holding facility in Santo Domingo, the season (Aug. 1 to March 15) has just begun, and he'll probably get the first shipment the second week of August.
"I am still tinkering with how to keep it in the best condition," Wong said. "I love lobster tails, but the head of the spiny lobster has just as much meat as the tail and the flavor is totally different from the cold water American lobster. I hope they make as big a splash as the Fourchu."
Aquabest Inc., 276 Grand Street New York, N.Y. 10002 (212) 285-1422
Arthur Bovino is The Daily Meal's executive editor. Follow Arthur on Twitter.