Friday, September 17, 2010

Now this is crab

If you ever need proof of me being a massive procrastinator, well, here it is now. This is a long overdue post from July.

Coming from a family of rather spontaneous travellers (say, for example, our first trip ever to Kanto region of Japan was planned within 2 weeks, accommodation and flights confirmed a week before departure), we made the decision to go on a cruise about 2 days after it was suggested by a family friend. A 7 day cruise on the Diamond Princess, up the Alaskan Inner Passage from Vancouver to Anchorage. Unfortunately, I was the only one against the plan (what 20-something year old would want to be stuck on a ship for 7 days?) but given the overwhelming majority, I was overruled.

But I'm glad I went. And all because of this one dish. Or should I say, bucket.

Real Jumbo Alaskan King Crab.

After half a day on an el cheapo local tour (our pre-booked helicopter glacier excursion was cancelled due to heavy fog), we found ourselves rather cold and hungry (Alaska summer temperatures = Sydney winter climate). The Hangar on the Wharf Pub was suggested as a good local hangout for a beer and pub food, so that was where we found ourselves. Hearty food, awesome burgers, great local beers, at reasonable prices.  
Having had "crab legs" on the ship the night before, the Alaskan King crab legs on the menu at $65US for 4 legs (not including tips and taxes) seemed a bit too pricey. We were ready to grab the bill and go when we spotted another table being served the jumbo king crab legs.

The legs that were served on the ship the night before were tiny compared with the jumbo legs. That one leg had the same amount of meat I managed to scrape from my serving of about 2 dozen leg segments. The legs were so incredibly fresh, it didn't need much after being steamed.

With the legs were segments of fresh lemon, and, to our confusion, a tapas pot of melted butter. While the rest of the table went for the lemon (all being overly health conscious), I was the only one who went for the butter. Oh man, crab and butter ... it worked so well. The meat was actually quite delicate, so the acidity of the lemon juice actually was too harsh and didn't complement as well. The butter brought an extra dimension of richness and silkiness to the perfectly steamed meat, and heightened the sweetness and briny freshness of the crab even more. Mum had always said "whoever was the first to eat crab was a true food adventurer"; well, the consensus after the meal was "whoever came up with having crab with melted butter was a true food genius".

It was also the first time I had a dark beer. This is a local dark from the Alaskan Brewing Company, a rich, slightly bitter, nutty concoction that strangely had a Coke-ish aftertaste. It really cleansed the palate between each bite of crab, and brought out the nuttiness of the butter quite well.

To be honest, this was the best meal of the entire trip. Ship food was lackluster, other food on the land excursions weren't that memorable. As for the famed Alaskan salmon, it really is quite different to the salmon we get here in Australia. The King is a rich, fatty, delicately flavoured variety, and so probably better cold smoked, and the Sockeye much more robust and stronger in the salmon taste, and my preferred one for hot smoked. Unfortunately I forgot to take photos, but there really weren't any of the fresh fish at the time I visited, and not a lot of point taking photos of the pre-packed stuff.

Hopefully I'll be less of a procrastinator on my next trip, which is happening in less than 2 weeks!

The Hangar on the Wharf Pub
2 Marine Way #106
Juneau, Alaska
(907) 586 5018

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Healthy desserts?

It probably doesn't look like much, but this is one of the best winter dessert in my repertoire.

Sweet potato in brown sugar ginger tea.

Ginger, according to doctrines of Chinese medicine, warms up the body. Brown sugar helps with blood circulation, which in turn improves the flow of chi in the body. Sweet potato helps with reducing water retention in the body, and being high in fiber, helps also with digestion.

The ginger tea featured here is one I brought back from Taiwan. Sold in bags, it resembles nothing like the sugar we are familiar with in Australia. 

Sold in 5cm blocks, this is basically enough to make 2 large mugs of sweet ginger tea. The perfect balance of sugar, the spiciness of ginger, with the aroma of dried dates and longan (both improve circulation and warm the body), the perfect winter drink.

With all the rich and fatty food we tend to consume in winter, and general colder weather, this is a delicious way to restore a balance of health.

Sweet potato in brown sugar ginger tea
Serves 2-3
1 small sweet potato, cut into bite sized chunks
4 heaped tablespoons brown sugar (adjust to taste)
1 knob of old ginger, sliced thinly
3 dried red dates or 2 dried black dates
4 dried longan
1 litre water

1. Wash the sweet potato thoroughly, scrub the skin with steel wool to ensure most of the surface dirt has been removed. Cut into bite sized chunks, then place into a pot with the cold water, and set to the boil.
2. After the sweet potatoes have come to the boil, add the sugar, ginger, dates and longan, and simmer until the sweet potatoes are soft (10-20 minutes). Serve immediately.

1. Dried red dates, dried black dates, and dried longan should be available from all good Asian grocers. You should be able to find them at the Chinese or Korean ones.
2. Old ginger should be used for this recipe rather than young ginger. Look for large knobs, golden skin, with wide stripes on the skin. Adjust the amount of ginger to your preference by adding the ginger little by little, keeping in mind the more you cook the ginger, the spicier the tea will become.
3. If you can find Okinawa brown sugar (沖縄黒糖) for cooking (and not as candy), that can be used as well. Otherwise, normal brown sugar from CSR is ok.