Sushi chef Bun Lai has a taste for the beach. He grew up exploring the craggy shore and rocky isles of coastal Connecticut, a passion he’s carried with him into adulthood. A few years ago, Lai and a friend were flipping over rocks along Long Island Sound, just to see what lie underneath. He was expecting to find the same green crabs he’s known since his youth. But “all of a sudden, we saw these crabs I hadn’t seen before,” he says. Lai caught some, brought them home, and looked them up.
They were Asian shore crabs, an invasive species that first showed up in the Sound in the 1980s. It’s made itself right at home, attacking the limited supply of plankton and larvae that native fish and shellfish need to survive. So Lai did what any sustainability-minded seafood chef would do: He excavated the crab meat from its shell and turned it into a sushi roll.
The dish “kanibaba”—made with Asian shore and Dungeness crabs and spinach, rolled up tightly in potato skin, infused with Asian shore crab stock, and topped with toasted havarti cheese and lemon dill sauce—is now one of the most popular items at Lai’s restaurant, Miya’s, in downtown New Haven. “We run out of them at this point,” he says. “We go out and get thousands of them, and we sell thousands of them every week or so.” Kanibaba has become the signature dish of his “Invasive Species Menu,” a chapter in Miya’s 60-page menu that reads like a manifesto on sustainability, spirituality, and the creative process.
photo via Endless Simmer
Obviously we need invasive species to be eaten, but if he’s taking thousands one week, and there’s thousands there the next he’s not taking enough.
Maybe we could make it into cat food, instead of feeding them menhaden?