Along the Eastern Seaboard, lobsters were once such an undesirable product that they were fed to prisoners, a tradition that endured well into the 1800s. By the mid-1900s, though, the plentiful crustaceans finally attained their current status as a luxury food, and Jonah crabs—which have a similar diet to lobsters and often show up in their traps—became the nuisance: fishermen considered them bait-robbing pests and killed the crabs before throwing them back into the water. But things are changing: just as the lobster ascended in value, so too has the Jonah crab. Though smaller and less meaty than its deep-water cousin, the Dungeness, the Jonah’s meat is especially tender and sweet.
And even better, when properly sourced, it’s a year-round sustainable seafood option. Sea to Table—a company that locates sustainable fisheries and markets their catch directly to consumers, as well as to select purveyors including Plated—is a major proponent of the crab. Our recipe for Jonah Crab Linguine with Garlic Confit and Chile Oil, shipping in August, utilizes Sea to Table crab, so we called up consumer business development lead Jane Olszewski to caht about this once-marginalized, now increasingly popular crustacean.
Plated: How do the fishermen you work with catch Jonah crab?
Jane Olszewski: Jonah crabs are caught in pots, or baited traps, anywhere between New York and Massachusetts. Typically, they’re a by-catch to the lobster fishery, and the same gear is used for both. Warming water temperatures have been driving lobsters farther north, with more Jonah crab taking their place in the ecosystem. They are becoming a more important harvest for traditional lobster fishermen in the Mid-Atlantic and Southern New England.
There’s conflicting information on the sustainability of Jonah crab; they’re not endorsed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. How do you ensure that they’re sourced ethically?
By almost all accounts, Jonah crab populations are robust and healthy, though management and targeted regulations have not yet caught up to their newfound importance as a dedicated fishery. But a plan for that is well in the works now, through the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, and is expected to be approved this summer. In the meantime, know where your seafood comes from. Plated’s landings of Jonah come mostly from fishing boats the F/V Integrity and the F/V Mrs. Lindsay, out of New Bedford, MA.
What makes New Bedford a particularly good place to source Jonah crab?
There’s actually no great difference between landing points or vessels fishing for Jonah Crab in the US. The real difference is that 90% of seafood consumed in the US is imported with little consciousness of origin, and dubious practices. The recent controversy regarding the mislabeling of iconic Blue Crab throughout the Chesapeake is a perfect example of the simple difference traceability and transparency can make for consumers who are so often misled when it comes to their seafood.
Once you’ve bought Jonah crab, what’s the best way to go about shelling it?
With the claws provided to Plated, we have the dock “triple score” them, meaning a cut is made on the claw and two knuckles. They’re cooked before they’re scored, so just slip a butter knife into the scored section and turn it, like prying open a top. The shell should separate cleanly and make extracting the meat an easy pleasure.
Which part of the crab is the most delicious?
We’re big fans of the claws, though the legs also produce nice chunks of very sweet meat.
Can you buy Jonah crab that’s already picked?
The leg meat is prized as already picked meat and can be found in some local retailers, but Jonah crabs are still a bit of a Mid-Atlantic/New England secret. Luckily, Plated customers are able to get in on that secret!