Dipping for Dungeness

Catching crab for dinner on Canada's West Coast

photo by alexandra burroughs

Alexandra Burroughs, intrepid reporter and guest blogger, flew from Alberta to B.C. – and then from Vancouver to Salt Spring Island via SaltSpring Air – on a mission to harvest her own meal direct from the Pacific. Thanks to Hastings House and the hotel’s “Gourmet Crab Fishing Adventure,” she realized her objective. She returned home with a satisfied belly full of sea creatures and a lively story. Enjoy!


Imagine being trapped in a metal crab cage cornered by a seething mass of gooey, pink, prickly starfish.

This beast, which measures nearly a foot and a half in diametre, has just devoured your hard-shelled buddies and she’s making her final move for you.

Something tugs on the cage and suddenly you’re both moving quickly up through the ocean waters until – at last – fresh air.

Not ideal for a crab. Granted. But if it’s possible for a crab to be happy to see my smiling face – then it happened not long ago on a boat off Ganges Harbour, Salt Spring Island.

This particular Dungeness was too small to keep so we tossed him back into the sea and then took a few moments to examine his bright orange predator before tossing her back as well.


photo by alexandra burroughs


Of course, we may not have been any closer to fresh crab cakes for dinner, but this was a victory nonetheless: it was exactly the kind of adventure my husband and I were hoping to have during our weekend on Salt Spring Island.

As a foodie, I’ve recently become tortured by my lack of inspiration in the kitchen. Maybe a long winter wore me out or my periodically picky kids drained my imagination, but lately I’ve been yearning to harvest something – anything – and create a good, simple meal.

We were drawn to Salt Spring Island because of its reputation for using locally grown ingredients and its use of sustainable agriculture. The island is famous for its Saturday market, where you can get anything from handmade woolen crafts to expertly-turned wooden bowls to the best smoked fish you’ve ever had.

The island is also known for its incredible artisan cheeses made by companies such as the Salt Spring Island Cheese Company and Moonstruck Organic Cheeses.

We hung our hats at the historic Hastings House, one of Canada’s most delightful inns. The property’s sprawling grounds include 22 acres of pathways, coastal forests and spectacular sculptures.

Divine gardens – edible and English – are kept in pristine condition by the head gardener while the hotel is known for its comfortable rooms, spa and decadent nightly dining experiences led by Executive Chef Marcel Kauer.

Hastings House was responsible for organizing our “Gourmet Crab Fishing Adventure” which involved catching crab with the help of local fisherman Kurt Irwin.

Irwin took us to all of his secret spots around the island and along the way, we got to feed bald eagles and spy on seals sunbathing on the rocks.

What followed was a wine-soaked lesson on how to make Chef Marcel’s famous crab cakes and then, an unforgettable seafood feast.

It was thrilling to walk into the dining room and see our fellow house guests enjoying the fruits of our day’s labour, which yielded 13 Dungeness crabs.

The crab meat was the sweetest I’ve ever tasted – even tastier when it was dunked in garlic-infused butter and fresh-picked parsely.

In all, it was an exhilerating adventure.

When my husband and I returned home to Alberta, our luggage was weighed down with yummy jams, savoury cheeses and fresh lavender.

We even picked up a starfish magnet for our fridge.


***Want to know more? Click here for info on Salt Spring.

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  1. Adam commented:

    This sounds fantastic. I’m always on the hunt for the best crab cake, so hearing about this adventure makes it sound that much better. Thanks for sharing.


  2. Linda commented:

    This is a great story – well written and energetic – and it makes one want to leave immediately for Salt Spring Island. Hastings House looks like a beautiful place to stay for very special occasions. I clicked onto each and every one of the highlighted topics to explore other things to see and do – each is a treasure unto itself. Thank you Alex!


  3. Jim Bratton and Drew Tait commented:

    Tried a crab cake recipe from one of our cookbook that was bland. Would love to know the perfect recipe. Do you have one? Our favourite is soft shell crabs. Perhaps you, with your great writing style, could help us? Excellent article and thank you.


    • Alex Burroughs commented:

      Hi Jim and Drew,
      Thank you so much for your comment. You would both love Hastings House and especially Chef Marcel Kauer. Here is his recipe, best enjoyed with a crisp Chardonnay…

      Preheat oven to 375°F. Combine in a bowl:
      2 large Dungeness Crabs shelled and well drained
      ¼ cup Minced Shallots
      2 Tbsp Small Diced Red Pepper
      2 Tbsp Mayo
      1 Whole Egg, plus one for dipping (see below)
      ½ Tsp Salt
      Pinch of Fresh Ground Black Pepper
      ¼ Tsp Dry Mustard
      1 Cup of Panko Bread Crumbs
      Make 3 oz balls and flatten to 1 inch thick.
      Dip each in second beaten egg and coat in more Panko bread crumbs

      Pan Sear in oil until golden brown on medium heat
      Bake in 375°F oven for 15 minutes

      Makes four portions of two cakes each.


  4. Terra Dimock commented:

    It was a pleasure to get to know you and have you in the Spa ! You are welcome back anytime ~ with much love, Terra


  5. Ria Rosenberg commented:

    Crab cakes are my favourite, reading about your trip was just glorious. I will attempt your recipe, and I am off in search of two large smiling Dungeness Crabs!
    Hugs, xox


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