Halibut and Rock Crabs in Santa Barbara

Ah, Santa Barbara, Calif. -- a welcome relief weather-wise after Oregon. The sun shone brightly for three days straight, and I could feel my fingers for the whole trip (which are essential for braking on a motorcycle). Craig Lewis, a local trawler who traded the high seas of Alaska for the area, refers to it as "cupcake cove," because the weather is nice and the fishing so good. As he would say, "No worries in this bay, right mate?"

I joined Craig to fish for halibut. I had no idea that California halibut were so large. They required a little more effort to fillet than the flounders I was used to as a kid. But once I got the hang of it, I took my catch back to Brophy Brothers for a cooking lesson. Brophy Brothers has been open for 25 years, and it's won the award for "Best Seafood in Town" for the past 22. So you know they know what they're talking about when it comes to seafood. Chef Lalo Aguilar showed me the best way to cook the fleshy halibut.

First, flour the fish. Then do a combined poaching/searing in a pan with butter, just 3 minutes per side. Add a little white wine, sherry, lemon, clam juice, capers and a bit more butter to start the sauce. Then just a little more flour to help thicken the sauce. Finish the whole dish in the oven.

And don’t forget to celebrate with a couple shots of tequila (this was chef Lalo’s favorite part). That’s some flakey, fresh, melt-in-your-mouth fish -- and so easy to do at home.

The other highlight of the trip was when I stopped at the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company for rock crabs. It's a totally under-appreciated variety of crab. They are used in Asian cuisine quite a bit, but for the rest of us, we tend to cook more with king or Dungeness crabs. Santa Barbara Shellfish Company is lined with beautiful tanks filled with crabs pulled in just hours ago.  The owner and I had a blast comparing steaming notes. Our top tip for steaming crabs: Pour cold water over your crabs to stop the cooking (I also do the same with lobster). Oh, and for a perfect crack, use the back of your knife: Tap hard on the claws and the shell fragments first before cracking.

Overall, it was a great trip. Sadly, there was no time for surfing as it was on to San Diego for some sardines, sea urchins and spiny lobsters.

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