Dan Major fishes box crab. And whelk and octopus. Also California spiny lobster, black cod, and blackgill rockfish. Plus the bigger stuff like yellowfin tuna and bonito. He’s got at least six commercial fishing permits. “Diversity and flexibility are important,” he says. Indeed, Major, like other fishermen, must evolve his business with ever-changing fishing regulations and ocean conditions. He’s spent his 20-plus year fishing career adapting to these constant changes and learning from them.

Major Family at Dockside market, —including wife Kelli, daughter Heather, son Troy and Dan.

Lobster season lasts six months of the year. Rockfish have their own seasons. The large fish, part of the “highly migratory species,” aren’t always to be found nearby either.

Unlike most Americans who eat mostly canned tuna, farmed shrimp, and farmed salmon, Major’s family—including wife Kelli, daughter Heather and son Troy—eats a variety of local seafood, and a lot of it.  

San Diego doesn’t have local salmon. The only local U.S. shrimp are spot prawns, for which there are only a handful of permits available.  Rumor has it that one such permit recently changed hands for about $600,000, so spot prawns understandably sell for $25 per pound, half of which is the head. Canned tuna has a time and a place (on rye with pickles, mayo, salt, and lettuce while fishing offshore), but if you are looking for a San Diego treat for dinner, our fishermen have better things to offer.

A box crab close-up.

Box crab is a Major family favorite. It’s actually a king crab and is fished using a crab pot, or trap, and found from 0 to 1,700+ feet depth.  One reason the Majors like them so much is that these prickly, pink speckled critters from the deep boast a whopping 30 percent usable meat for the larger ones, compared to 18 percent for golden king crab or less than 22 percent for some other crabs. Major says, “Our family’s favorite way to eat box crab is simple, so you can taste the sweetness and the delicacy of the meat. When you combine it with strong flavors, these qualities are hidden.”  The Major family likes box crab best when they’re steamed in salted water for about 7-8 minutes for a two-pound crab. After they’ve cracked open the shell and pulled out the meat, which comes out easily in chunks when you’re lucky, Heather and Troy like to dip it in drawn butter and lemon, while their parents stick to lemon or nothing at all.

If you don’t cook it the day you buy it, put the crab on ice in a bowl in the refrigerator for up to a day. It should still be alive (and moving) before you cook it. Gently rinse the crab under cool water. If simply steaming the crab, fill a large pot with less than 2 inches of lightly salted water and place a steamer basket on the bottom, which will prevent the crab from being submerged in water. Put the crab in the pot and close the lid. Cook on medium high heat and when the water starts to boil or steam, set a timer for 7-8 minutes for a 2–3 pound crab. Gently remove the crab using tongs. The flesh will be opaque when done.

Beginning of box crab break down.
Box crab after boiling for 7-8 minutes.

Box Crab and Corn Bisque

Recipe by the Majors Family

Approximately 3 pounds of live box crab

  • 1 large onion, peeled
  • 2 carrots
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 ears corn, kernels cut from cob
  • ½ cup cooking sherry
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Chopped chives and parsley for garnis

Serves 4–6

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add live box crab, coarsely chopped onion, carrots, and whole garlic cloves to boiling water.  Remove crab after 7–8 minutes and let cool but continue to cook vegetables.  Remove crab meat from legs and set aside. Place crab shells back into water and cook until vegetables are soft.  Strain and save about 3 quarts of broth along with vegetables. Pick out crab shells.

Purée vegetables and broth.  Stir in bay leaf, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper. Return to boil and stir in corn. Simmer about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to medium low.

Add sherry, Worcestershire sauce, and lemon juice to pot.

In a small bowl, stir together flour and ½ cup of cooked broth. Slowly add into simmering soup, stirring constantly.  Simmer for 1–2 minutes. Then stir in cream.

Reduce heat to low, stir in crab meat and cook until warmed through, about 5 minutes. Remove bay leaf.

Garnish with chopped chives and parsley.

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