Wild Recipes

Dungeness Crab Fettuccine Alfredo 

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All About Dungeness Crab

Living in Newport, Oregon, The Dungeness Crab Capital of the World, many of us comfortably know our way around a Dungeness crab but there’s almost always more to learn! In fact, just yesterday my friend Mike Gatens from shrimp Daddy’s Bait and Tackle Shack taught me how to identify a Dungeness crab heart and showed me that you can actually eat them – more on that in a bit. So I wanted to find out what else I might possibly not know about our crustacean cohabitants and share this information with all of you. 

Katie Wiley Crab

Where do Dungeness crab live? 

Dungeness crab typically live in an area ranging from the Central Coast of California, although occasionally found as far south as Magdalena Bay, Baja California Sur, Mexico, all the way up the coastline. Covering nearly all of the coastal waters of Oregon and Washington, including throughout Puget Sound, the Coastal waters of Canada, and even in Southeast Alaska. 

Dungeness crabs are found in nearly all Oregon estuaries and out to depths of 1,080 feet off shore, although they are most bountiful in the area of around 295 feet. 

Juveniles prefer making their homes in eelgrass beds and sandy or muddy substrate where they benefit from the protection provided by the eelgrass. Juvenile Dungeness cling to the grass, hiding within it and consuming other small organisms within the eelgrass. After several molts, subadults and adult Dungeness crabs typically begin to leave the eelgrass beds and move offshore. 

How do Dungeness crab reproduce? 

Mating occurs in the late spring or early summer in nearshore areas. During this process, the male Dungeness crab embraces the female for up to 7 days before she molts, after which the actual transfer of sperm occurs. She stores this sperm for about a month until she extrudes her eggs and, in the process of doing so, they are fertilized.

A large female crab can carry 2.5 million eggs under her abdomen until they hatch during the winter months. After hatching, the young crabs are planktonic and swim freely away from the female. During this free swimming period, Dungeness crab larvae are preyed upon by birds, whales, and many species of fish with only a small percentage of larvae growing into full adulthood. When the last free swimming stage sheds its shell and settles to the ocean floor, it looks like a tiny crab about half the size of a dime (about ¼ inch). 

How do Dungeness Crab Grow? 

Dungeness crabs can only grow by periodically shedding their shells in a process known as molting. Dungeness will molt up to a dozen times within the first two years of its life but once a they reach about 4 inches in width, they are considered a mature adult and typically only molt only once per year from then on out, increasing its size 1” to 1 1/3 inches in width with each molt. 

Prior to and during molting, Dungeness crabs absorb extra water into their body tissues, which expands the body to a larger size causing their shells to split. Then all of the hard parts of the crab are shed as one piece and the crab backs out of its shell. The soft, newly-molted crab’s shell is paper-thin and is vulnerable to puncture so the crab hides by burying itself in the sandy bottom for several days while its new shell hardens. The complete hardening of the new shell takes around 6 weeks for adult crabs.

Adult males and females in a population tend to molt at different times, so that the males will be hard-shelled and able to mate when the females molt. 

Dungeness Crab Fun Facts! 

  • Dungeness crab can live between 8-13 years of age. 
  • Mature Dungeness crabs are typically 6”-7″ across but can grow up to 10-plus inches.
  • Dungeness crabs have an exoskeleton, called a carapace.
  • Dungeness crab have very limited swimming abilities and generally walk or run across the bottom or are swept out to sea with currents. 
  • Dungeness crab are sideways walkers and will push with four legs on one side and pull with the other side.
  • Dungeness crabs have several pairs of appendages. Two pairs (antennae) are for touch and smell. A number of modified appendages act as a mouth, used for cutting, picking, sorting and pulverizing food. The pincers, the most recognizable appendage, are used for grasping, tearing and defense. Each crab has four pairs of walking legs. Appendages are also located on an up-tucked tail; the female uses these appendages to hold onto her eggs.
  • Dungeness crab are able to regrow lost appendages.
  • Dungeness crabs got their name from the town of Dungeness, Washington, where the commercial fishery for this species began in 1848.
  • The Dungeness crab is our state crustacean – In 2009, after lobbying from students at Sunset Primary School in West Linn, Oregon and citing its importance to the Oregon economy, the Oregon Legislative Assembly designated the Dungeness crab as the state crustacean of Oregon. 
  • Dungeness crabs account for about a third of the value of all Oregon commercial landing annually, and are considered to be the backbone of the fleet. 

Serves: 4
Time to make: 30 minutes
Also make with: cooked lobster, other crab species

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Dungeness Crab Fettuccine Alfredo 

Recipe by Katie Wiley
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Course: Wild Recipes


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  • 2-3 Whole Dungeness crab, cooked

  • 1lb. Fettuccine

  • 1 stick butter

  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced

  • 1.5 cups heavy cream

  • 1.5 cups whole milk

  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for topping fettuccine

  • 4 Tbs. flour

  • 1 tsp. Salt

  • Fresh cracked black pepper to taste

  • Garnish with fresh parsley and J.O. Crab Seasoning No.2, Old Bay, or Harvesting Nature’s Wild Fish Blend


  • Cook pasta per package directions, drain and set aside.
  • In a saucepan over medium heat add butter and let it melt. Add minced garlic and whisk together to combine.
  • Sprinkle the flour over the butter and garlic mixture. Whisk together and then slowly add the heavy cream and milk while whisking. Let sauce begin to boil and then reduce heat to low and allow it to simmer for 2-3 minutes.
  • Add Parmesan cheese, salt (if needed) and pepper and whisk together.
  • Toss pasta in Alfredo sauce. Top with Dungeness crab and another drizzle of Alfredo over crab.
  • Garnish with fresh parsley and J.O Crab Seasoning No.2, Old Bay, or Harvesting Nature’s Wild Fish Blend and Enjoy!

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Katie Wiley

Katie Wiley, also known as The Kitchen Wild has a strong drive to share with the world how simple, fun, and delicious foraging for wild foods can be. She calls the picturesque central Oregon coast home, and lives only a short walk from the Pacific Ocean and Alsea Bay so she’s never far from some of the most delicious and fun-to-gather foods on the planet. Whether she’s pulling up pots of Dungeness crab, catching crawfish with her bare hands or raking for cockle clams she always has her husband and three children right by her side on these adventures and hopes to inspire you to do the same.

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