Belly up to the bar. Tie on the bib. Roll up your sleeves. It’s crab feast time!
Whether you’re traveling in Alaska or purchasing crab for a seafood dinner at home, knowing the ins and outs of different types of crab and how to prepare and eat them is crucial to your enjoyment of this tasty crustacean. Yes, you can buy pre-shucked crab at the store for up to $50 pound (give or take), but that’s no fun. Buy fresh crab or catch your own, and gather your friends and family around the table for a messy, delicious, buttery, fun time of picking crab meat out of the shell
Knowing where to drop pots is a local’s secret. Leave your pot for a day or two, pull it up, and hopefully your stinky bait of fish or chicken has attracted these delicious scavengers of the sea. Crabbers must know current regulations such as minimum legal size to keep. Often only males are kept and females are thrown back in the sea to reproduce. You’ll need to be able to distinguish a male from a female crab. Not hard really. The flap on its bottom, called an apron, is shaped differently between the sexes – wider for the females, narrow for males.
But if you aren’t an Alaska resident and don’t feel like signing up for a Deadliest Catch fishing job, what kind of crab from Alaska can you expect to find at your local seafood shop or restaurant?
There are different types of king crab but you’ll generally find red king crab available because that’s the largest commercial harvest in Alaska. You might also find blue and golden king crabs. Red king crab is the most well-known and desirable for its sweet and tasty meat. It’s also the largest. Its carapace width can reach up to 11 inches with a leg span of nearly six feet – and a weight of 28 pounds! But most are smaller these days with an average weight of 6.4 pounds.
Tanner crab and snow crab
Tanner is a type of snow crab along with opilio. Tanner crab is known for sweet meat and is larger than opilio, though both are considered top shelf for recipes or eating out of the shell.
Named after Washington’s Dungeness Spit in the Straits of Juan de Fuca, this crab has smaller and shorter legs than the others and a smooth carapace. Also prized for its sweet flavor and tender meat, it’s widely available in seafood shops and restaurants due to its vast range along the Pacific coast of North America. Its average weight is two to three pounds.
Now you have crabs. What next?
If you buy it at a store, it’s likely they have already cooked and cleaned it for you. But if you bought a live crab or caught it yourself, you’ll need to cook and clean it. These are the two most popular ways to cook whole crabs.
How to Boil Crab
- Boil a large, salted pot of water. Add crabs.
- Cook crabs until they float. Time depends on size. 10 – 15 minutes on average.
- Remove crabs with tongs and let cool. Clean crabs.
How to Steam Crabs
- Boil about one inch of salted water in a pot.
- Use a steamer basket or place crabs directly in pot.
- Cover and cook about 10 to 20 minutes. Remove with tongs to cool. Clean crabs.
No matter how you cook them, you must clean the crabs after they’ve cooled, before you can serve them.
How to Clean Crabs
- Remove the apron on the bottom of the shell. It should pull off.
- Pull off the carapace which is the top shell.
- Remove the feathery gills along the top and snap the two pointy mandibles off at the front.
- Rinse the crab under running water to remove the crab guts.
- Ready to serve!
Serving and Eating Crab
Crabs can be served whole on platters for people to share – hot or cold (both cooked!). Once the crab is cleaned, it’s easy to snap it in half down the middle of the body or even into smaller chunks. Most people enjoy dipping their fresh crab in melted butter or aioli. Set out small dipping bowls. You can fancy up your melted butter with a squeeze of lemon or set out lemon wedges.
Crab crackers and seafood picks are very handy tools for picking crab meat out of shells. You can find a set in most kitchen stores. If you don’t have any, you can improvise. A seafood pick can be made out of the tip of a sharp crab leg. Use that to dig crab meat out of other shells. Any type of mallet can be used to crush shells.
From one crab lover to another, here’s a tip. After the feast, clean it all up well and bag up all the crab shells to immediately deposit outside in your compost or trash bin. Otherwise freeze it in the freezer, but make sure you take it out on garbage day! Your nose will thank you in the morning.
If you are heading up to Alaska this summer on the Alaskan Splendors cruise, or any other journey, and you are interested in buying Alaskan crab, there are opportunities to buy locally in Alaska and ship them home timed for your return. You’ll be supporting local fishermen and have a treat at your door soon upon return. And share your crabs with friends.
Yields: 6 Servings
Alaskan Crab Cakes
- 1 1/3 Cups King Crab Meat
- 2/3 Cup Lump Crab Meat
- 1/4 Cup Chopped Spring Onions
- 1 Lemon Zested
- 1/2 Teaspoon Old Bay Spice
- 1/3 Cup Mayonnaise
- 2 1/2 Teaspoons Mustard
- 1 Whole Egg
- 1/2 Cup Bread Crumbs Fresh
- 1/4 Cup Dry Mashed Potatoes
- 1/4 Cup Olive Oil
- 1/8 Cup Butter
- Salt, Pepper to Taste
Pick the crabmeat from the king crab; remove any shell or cartilage that may be in the crabmeat. Lightly squeeze some of the water from the crab and discard. Place the crabmeat to one side. Open the lump crabmeat and squeeze some of the water from the crab and discard.
Place the crabmeats into a bowl and mix with the mayonnaise, lemon zest, Old Bay Spice, mustard, spring onions, egg, mashed potato and the fresh breadcrumbs, season to taste. Form into 3 ounce cakes, shallow fry in olive oil and foaming butter until golden brown on both sides.