Alaska: Battle royale

By Paul Rush

In a restaurant in Alaska, Paul Rush has a tussle with the King of Crabs — and wins.

It's a deadly predator on the sea floor, but the Alaskan king crab is a meal you'll remember always. Photo / Supplied
It's a deadly predator on the sea floor, but the Alaskan king crab is a meal you'll remember always. Photo / Supplied

Imeet "The King" at a restaurant in Anchorage, the biggest city in the land of grizzlies, glaciers and gourmet seafood. I've come for a taste of Alaska where the sea's bounty is bright red, gnarly, spiked and chock-full of snow-white succulent flesh.

The restaurant menu is a standout, featuring dishes made with wild Alaskan salmon, halibut, reindeer sausage, snow crab and shrimp. I choose the half kilo of steamed king crab with corn, potatoes, butter and lemon. The giant crustacean's legs are spread-eagled over the dinner plate - it's a feast for a king.

I'm offered a plastic bib so I won't smell like a fishmonger. Before me is a shiny set of metal nutcrackers and narrow two-pronged forks for extracting the meat.

A crab-shaped placemat and a small dipping bowl of water complete the table setting.

I stare at the jumbled heap of "wild caught" spike-infested legs for some time before deciding to go for the initial big nut-cracking crunch. The leg splits open and random pieces of shell explode outwards.

One sharp-edged piece's trajectory carries it to the next table.

It's unseemly to fight with your food in an upmarket restaurant, I know, but this spiky critter is crabby with me.

Despite my maladroit manipulation of nutcrackers and probing forks, the crab proves very shy and just won't come out of his shell.

But my meal is worth every bruised knuckle and sharp flesh prick - it's a tastebud adventure.

It also comes with the option of a caesar side salad with romaine lettuce, pickled anchovies, croutons and crispy pancetta.

A Crabby Blonde lager from the Glacier Brewing Company goes down well with my crusty crab feast.

I have come to Alaska at the height of the king crab season, when intrepid people launch themselves into the world's wildest fishing grounds. The fisher folk go out in droves from Dutch Harbour, Seward, Skagway, Ketchikan, Juneau and a dozen other Alaskan ports to fish the treacherous Bering Sea.

Every year they face the onslaught of giant waves, sub-zero temperatures and 130km/h winds.

They do it because they're diehard third or fourth-generation fishers who know that if they survive they'll make their fortune.

They seek the king crab that march relentlessly in close ranks around the Bering Sea and through Arctic waters to invade the Atlantic Ocean.

The largest arthropod has a 5kg, metre-wide body and massive pincers that make it a deadly predator on the sea floor but also a prized gourmet feast on the dinner plate.

Going north to Alaska is tantamount to entering an alien environment. The state has winter days with as few as three hours of daylight - just enough time to get the groceries in.

No matter what the temperature is outside, dining on the most highly prized crab in the world is just the thing to make any gourmand smile.

It's lip-smacking, chin-wiping good with a sweet tangy flavour and a firm texture. That sumptuous crab put up a spirited defence on the plate, and is remembered fondly.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Air New Zealand operates non-stop daily services from Auckland to Los Angeles and San Francisco, with onward connections to Anchorage on partner airlines.

For more information: Visit DiscoverAmerica.com

The writer travelled courtesy of Adventure World.

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