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TODAY

Wednesday, July 24

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"Is it hot enough for you?"
"For me to what?"
"For you to not want to cook?"
"Oh, hell yeah."

It's hot. I've been waiting for the heat for months and I'm enjoying it for the most part. But the heat does affect how I eat and how I cook.

Salads are a given when it's hot. The crisp moisture of fresh lettuce and cucumbers and tomatoes, the slight tang of an oil and vinegar dressing, and the fact that I get to stand by the open refrigerator instead of over the hot stove is a huge plus.

But I can only eat so many salads before I start to do a "Wudy da Wabbit" impersonation ala Billy Murray in Meatballs. However the only thing I'm running from is making my home hotter than it already is and there's no uplifting message when I get to the finish line.

It's also the time of year when I prefer eating lots of seafood and veggies and not as much meat. But even fish, unless you're buying sashimi grade, requires you to use the stove.

As I was wandering the grocery recently trying to think of something I could make which would be as low heat as possible, I passed the seafood counter and saw a pile of king crab legs looking tasty with their orangey-pink and spiky shells, and that's when it hit me. "Those things are already cooked." I placed my order and took home two pounds of paper-wrapped torture devices. Those spikes can be quite sharp.

At $8 a pound, on sale, and considering I'm going to get maybe 1/4 pound of edible meat out of 1 pound of legs, it's not an easy-out I can fall back on regularly. But crab is high in protein, low in fat, averages about 100-150 calories for a four-ounce serving, and is durned tasty.

And even though it takes a little work to get into, I'd much prefer wrestling with a pair of scissors and smashing the shells with a mallet (or the bottom of a can of soup with a towel wrapped around it since I don't have a mallet) than setting my oven to bake. For about $25 you can buy a decent pair of kitchen shears that you can use to cut through the shell to get to the meat. For tougher sections of the legs, you simply put a canned food item on a kitchen towel, wrap the towel up the sides, hold it firmly and whack until the shell cracks. Pick away any small shell pieces and you've got access.

Now, most shellfish you want to buy should be alive and not frozen, not counting shrimp. And if you're cooking whole crab, you want them to be alive and active and not dead. Crab legs are different. Most of the legs you can buy at the store are going to be about 14-20 inches long. Picture the crab that would be attached to. You probably don't have a pot large enough to cook it in. Not to mention it might overtake you on the way to the checkout. So the legs you are going to buy have already been cooked and then they should be hard frozen. They can last in this state without significant flavor degradation for about six months. But once they thaw out, you're going to want to eat them within 24 hours.

They're already a bit water-logged, so as you thaw them you're going to want to be sure to do it in such a way that the water drains away from them. Poke some holes in the paper or bag and place this in a bowl or dish with space between the legs and the bowl. Alton Brown suggests poking holes in a large plastic container and then placing this inside another plastic container, putting the legs inside and sealing the holey one tightly. I think that's a waste of a good container, so I suggest creating a snake of aluminum foil and putting it in the bottom of a pan or bowl. Place your package on top of this and make sure the meat is elevated. Do this before going to bed the night before you're going to eat them and they'll be thawed and drained the next day.

Now that you know how to buy them, thaw them and open them, you're ready to eat them. The traditional method is to make clarified butter or ghee. Dip your crab leg into that, and enjoy. However, if I think it's too hot to cook, I'm not going to be interested in eating butter. So I like the cold legs with just a little lemon juice and a hint of cocktail sauce. Perfectly summery. But some people like their crab legs warm, and since they're already cooked, you don't have to cook them again. Sticking them in a pot of boiling water is going to get everything soggy and bland. You can cut the legs into manageable pieces and place them in a steamer basket and steam them for about three to five minutes. Or — and I find it hard to believe I'm saying this — but you can heat them in the microwave.

I didn't believe it either, but I saw Alton Brown do it, so I gave it a shot. Make sure the legs are only about eight to 10 inches long and wrap three sections in a couple of damp paper towels. Wrap this in plastic wrap and place it on high for about two minutes. Be careful of steam burns when you unwrap them and eat them immediately.

What else can you do with crabmeat that doesn't require you to cook?

Faux crab ceviche
1/4 cup of crab meat chopped (you can even buy this meat in a plastic bowl so you don't have to open the shells)
1/2 avocado, in small cubes
1/2 roma tomato, chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions or onion
Juice from half of a lime
A couple shakes of hot sauce, or a bit of chopped jalapeño, or a little chopped chipotle
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix everything together and either eat it immediately with tortilla chips or warmed corn tortillas, or let it sit overnight to let the flavors merge. Eat within 24 hours of making. This is faux ceviche since the crab was already cooked before the citrus juice was added. This will make one serving so increase the measurements to serve more people.

Sometimes it's not only possible, but preferable, to cook without gas.

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