The History of King Crab in Richmond
If you show me a group of people seated around a large table with their collective hands covered in garlic and their plates stacked high with empty crab shells, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about those people and most likely they’re enjoying a King Crab dinner. They’re having a moment and the moment is all about enjoying an Alaska King Crab that weighs close to 10lbs! For the better part of two hours, they’re spinning dishes around the Lazy Susan, serving one another, making sure that everyone has what they need and simply enjoying the company of others.
I know of what I speak because I was part of that group of happy diners at Jade Restaurant in Richmond. Having never had a King Crab dinner before, I knew I was in for a treat, but I wasn’t ready for what awaited me. I always knew that food brings people together, but sharing a King Crab dinner is more than just a meal, it’s an experience.
In Richmond, one doesn’t have to go too far to seek out an Alaskan King Crab dinner but even as recently as 10-15 years ago, that wasn’t the case. Chinese restaurants always had the infrastructure but they were missing the demand. With an affinity for live seafood and a disdain for anything frozen, live seafood holding and display tanks were a must. With that infrastructure already in place for most Chinese restaurants, one major hurdle was already cleared. Combine the tanks with a clientele already accustomed to family style dining and the table was set! With a short season lasting from March through to April, it’s a short window, but well worth making time for it!
Frozen King Crab is nothing to get excited about, so there was a move from Chinese restaurants to work with their suppliers to bring in fresh King Crab into their restaurants. The first restaurant to receive credit for initiating this movement is generally directed to Sun Sui Wah. However, once it was well-received, other restaurants took notice and the discovery of the King Crab dinner was born. The rise in popularity can be seen by how much the price has gone up over the years. In the early 2000’s, it was initially around $12 per pound. Nowadays, depending on the season and the supply, it can be upwards of $30-50 per pound. With that said, a group of ten will eat like absolutely kings and queens for approximately $40-$50 per person. I like a good steak dinner as much as the next carnivore, but I’d just as rather feast on King Crab for that price. I can grill a terrific steak during the summer, but preparing a multiple course King Crab dinner at home isn’t my forte.
A Feast for the Family
The beauty of King Crab is that it’s inherently perfect for family style Chinese meals. Every part of the crab is used for the meal and it comes prepared in many ways. Like any multiple course meal, there is a progression and that’s no different here. The menu is typically set in advance, so other than informing the restaurant of how many people are taking part in the feast, the guesswork of selecting what to eat is taken care of for you! It of course features King Crab, but you’ll also be presented with a variety of soup, a duck or chicken dish and vegetables.
But there’s more! If you’re like me, any crab dinner is worth getting excited for. However, there’s always the hassle of getting frustrated and not being able to get every last piece of meat when you’re left to forage on your own. Each dish of the crab dishes left you wanting for nothing.
A Trio of King Crab Dishes
There are certainly variations amongst different restaurants, but you’ll always be presented with a platter of perfectly steamed crab legs topped with garlic. The crab legs are already split and because it’s a King Crab, these are big legs meaning it’s easy to get the crab meat out and there is lots of it! This wasn’t struggling to get a sliver of meat out with a small fork, this was easy and exactly as Mother Nature intended. This dish is a classic and truly features the King Crab in its truest form without fussing around too much.
Another staple of the King Crab experience are the deep fried knuckles topped with crispy garlic, chili salt and XO sauce. Judging by the reaction of when this dish was presented and how quickly the plate was emptied, it was a hit. The batter was really light, almost tempura-like, which was enough to coat the knuckles without making it too difficult to get to the important part! And really, two of the best things in life, King Crab and deep-frying, you can’t really go wrong with that combination!
Between the steamed crab legs with garlic (and lots of it) and the deep-fried knuckles, it’s no wonder this is a meal to be eaten amongst family and friends. You will get your hands messy, you will smell like garlic and you might need to be told there’s a little something on your cheek because you’re too busy scanning the table for what you want to eat next.
The final dish you’re bound to see is the baked Portuguese curry Alaskan King Crab fried rice served in the head. It truly uses absolutely everything the crab has to offer AND the ultimate family style comfort dish. Using the tomalley (organs of the crab), a rich and decadent cream is made and tossed with more crab and fried rice baked in the shell of the King Crab itself. I know organ talk during dinner isn’t the most appealing thing for some, but if you didn’t know, you’d never have guessed. I can only say it’s the most luxurious fried rice dish I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying.
For me, this was the best way to appreciate the King Crab for what it offered and it’s the perfect way to wrap up the meal. Passing around the shell with everyone helping themselves and slowly working down towards the bottom where the rice was extra crispy from having been baked right into the shell.
If you need more convincing about what King Crab dinners in Richmond means to the international culinary scene, it was invented here and has since been picked up and duplicated by restaurants in China. It’s not uncommon for travelers coming to Canada to coincide their visits to take advantage of the King Crab season. After an evening of experiencing the King Crab phenomenon myself, I can certainly see why!
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