There are around 5,000 different species of crab, which can be found all over the world. 4,500 of these species are said to be “true” crabs, while the other 500 are made up of different species of hermit crabs.The majority of crabs live in the water, however, there are a small number of crabs that live on land and breathe air.
The majority of the crab population can be found in the waters around China, followed by the U.S. and Japan. While most crabs are found in the Asian seas, the U.S. is the world’s largest exporter of crabs. Crab dishes are very popular in Japan, France, Spain, Hong Kong, the U.S., Canada and Portugal.
Crabs and crustaceans were considered a delicacy in ancient Rome. In particular, Apicius, a well known “foodie” of the time, described how to cook crustaceans in his book, De Re Coquinaria, and it seems that he was a real fan. Legend has it that when he learned that there were extremely large lobsters living along the coast of Libya, he hired a boat and sailed there just to try them. Once he arrived and discovered that the local lobsters were almost identical to those found in Rome, he turned around and came back to Italy without even debarking.
Although there are many different types of crab and each offer their own distinctive taste and texture, all crabmeat is essentially sweet. The many crab species fished from North America’s coastal waters vary greatly in size, appearance, taste and texture and lend themselves to an immense array of dishes. There are six varieties that are used the most and are commercially available, either live, cooked, frozen or in lump form (that is, picked from the shell and packaged).
If you are planning on cooking the crab at home and eating it straight from the shell, it is best to buy live crabs for better taste. Frozen crabs can also be bought. Buy your crabs from a well-known and reputable fish market or, as a second choice, from a large supermarket. If you are buying from the latter, make sure to find out how long the crabs have been in the tank. If it is longer than a week, they should really be avoided.
When I was young, my family and I would spend our summers at the shore. One of the activities involved crabbing in the bay near our house. My father would take me to the dock very early in the morning. It was a simple affair: string, bait and a basket. My father would attach the bait to the string, drop the bait end into the water and tie the other end to the dock. My job was to check the strings every once in awhile to see if we caught a crab. If we did, we would pull up the string and place the crab in a covered basket. Believe or not, we caught many crabs this way, more than enough for dinner. My father would be very happy and always bragged about the crab catch. He loved to make spaghetti sauce with crabs cooked in the sauce. I was not a fan and didn’t eat crab then. Times have changed.
If you are buying live crabs, it is best to consume them when they are as fresh as possible, preferably on the same day, although they will keep overnight in the refrigerator. Put the live crabs in a bowl or a container where they can still breathe and cover them with damp paper towels or a damp cloth. Place them in a cold area of your refrigerator until you are ready to use them.
Boiling live crab
Pour 5 quarts of water into a large pot and add 5 tablespoons of sea salt. Bring to a rapid boil.
Grasp the live crab by the back legs and drop it into the water headfirst. Bring the water back to the boil and only then start timing.
You should cook large crabs (about 2 lb.) for around 15-20 minutes and smaller crabs around 8 – 10 minutes.
The crab’s shell should turn a bright orange when done.
When the crabs are done, immerse them for a few seconds in cold water, so that cooking stops and they do not overcook.
Defrosting a whole crab
If you have decided to purchase pre-cooked frozen crab, simply place it in the refrigerator overnight in order to defrost.
If you need to defrost the crab quickly, wrap it in plastic wrap and place it in a sink full of cold water. Do not use hot water. A two pound crab will defrost in one hour.
Storing cooked crab meat
Freshly cooked crab meat is best eaten on the same day, however, it can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two days. The cooked meat should be removed from the shell beforehand.
Cooked crab meat can be frozen and will keep for four months. Make sure that it is tightly wrapped or placed in an airtight container before freezing.
Some of the more common types of crab are described below.
Alaskan King Crab are the largest and most sought after crab in the world due to its size, which can reach up to 25 pounds and measure up to 10 feet. It may be large, but only about one-fourth is edible, primarily the legs and claws. Only males are harvested. The delicately-flavored meat is snowy white with a bright red outer edge. Their preferred habitat is in the coldest waters in the world. King Crab is caught chiefly by commercial fisherman in various areas in the Pacific Ocean near Alaska: Bristol Bay, Norton Sound, St. Matthew Island, Pribilof Island and the Kodiak Islands.
Alaskan Snow Crab are the type of crab you mainly find in a seafood restaurant. There are four species of Snow Crab and two species are found in Alaskan waters. Alaskan Snow Crab are mainly caught by commercial fishermen in the Bering Sea waters and the Chukchi Sea. Many of the same crabs are also found in Japan. Their habitat is in very cold waters. Snow Crab grow by molting when they shed their exterior. Then they grow tissue to fill each new, larger exo-skeleton. They molt several times per year when they are young but only once per year when they get larger and mature. The average snow crab weighs between 2 and 4 pounds.
The Blue Crab habitat is mainly around the Chesapeake Bay area on the Atlantic coast, areas in the Gulf of Mexico and other areas as far south as the Bahamas. This species of crab has blue highlights and their shells are extremely sharp. Blue crabs can also be eaten in it’s soft shell stage. To eat these crab in the soft shell stage, they have to caught, processed and cooked before they molt to their hard shell state.
Dungeness Crab is a type of crab that inhabits grass beds and water bottoms all the way from the Aleutian Islands in Alaska down through the Pacific Ocean waters of California and even into parts of the Gulf of Mexico. They are named after Dungeness, Washington, which is located near Port Angeles, WA, in the Puget Sound area. This area is where Captain George Vancouver explored the Strait of Juan de Fuca, along the northern area of Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula in the late eighteenth century. Dungeness Crab is considered a characteristic food of the Great Pacific Northwest.
Stone Crabs have large, very hard claws that are prized for their meat. Most of the harvest comes from Florida, where it is harvested from October 15 to May 15. Only the claws are eaten, so fishermen twist off one claw from each stone crab and toss them back to grow a new one. Crabs will regenerate new claws within 18 months. The law requires the claws of just caught stone crabs be boiled for 7 minutes and then either put on ice or frozen. The freezing process seems to remove an unpleasant iodine taste which is often noticed in the meat. To serve, the claws are cracked with a mallet and served cold with dipping sauces. Minimum size for claws is 2 to 2.75 ounces. The meat has a firm texture and a sweet flavor.
Red Rock Crabs and their cousins, the Jonah Crab, are light to dark brownish red, depending on where they are caught. The further north they are fished, the darker the shells get. Red Rock crabs are found along the Atlantic coast all the way from Nova Scotia to the shores of Florida. Neither are sold in upscale fish stores or in the major supermarkets, but you may be able to find them in Spanish or Chinese markets.
Freshwater Crabs: There are many species that live in freshwater- especially in the streams and billabongs of Australia- but also on every other continent.The Southern European Crab, pictured above, has been eaten by people since Roman Times. Unfortunately, freshwater crabs are threatened by human activities more than most groups of animals and many species are in danger of becoming extinct.
The four basic types of shelled meat that you can buy and their uses follow:
Jumbo Lump or Lump Crab Meat
Jumbo Lump meat comes from the pair of large muscles that drive the crab’s swimming legs. With care and skill these lumps can be removed intact, resulting in the prized whole Jumbo Lump with its incomparable visual appeal. Grades identified simply as lump are from smaller crab varieties.
Use Jumbo Lump when you want to display beautiful white meat in:
Solid-meat crab cakes
Crab Louis – lumps of crab meat and hard boiled eggs on Boston lettuce, with Russian dressing.
Crab Imperial – a baked dish combining crab with mayonnaise or a sherried white sauce, spooned into scallop shells, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese or bread crumbs and browned.
Lump or Backfin Lump Crab Meat
Lump or Backfin is the preferred grade for many traditional crab dishes. It has the same fine flavor and texture of Jumbo Lump, but is in slightly smaller pieces. Some companies call this grade Lump, some Backfin and some Backfin Lump. If you purchase a can labeled Lump, it will be all lump meat and will not contain any Jumbo Lump.
Use Lump or Backfin when you want beautiful white crab but don’t want the expense of Jumbo Lump, for example:
Crab Benedict (Eggs Benedict with crab instead of ham)
Gazpacho: add a 1/2 cup of crab to the center of the soup
Pasta: add to Spaghetti Carbonara instead of bacon or add a cup to Fettuccini all’Amatriciana
White Crab Meat
White crab meat is ideal for crab cake recipes that have multiple ingredients (bread crumbs, vegetables) that are mixed with mayonnaise and in crab recipes where the size and shape of the crab flake becomes indistinguishable from the rest of the ingredients.
White crab meat is a more economical alternative for:
Bisques and chowders
Sandwiches and salads
Claw Crab Meat
Claw Crab meat is the “dark meat” of the crab. The reddish-brown claw and leg meat is actually more flavorful than the white meat and is preferred by many who like the more robust flavor and appreciate the lower price. Claw meat also stands up to bolder seasonings. Some people mix it with Backfin Lump for visual appeal, while keeping the overall price down.
Try claw meat and, if you like the flavor, you may have an economical alternative and a reason to enjoy crab more often. You can use it in any preparation, but especially in
Cioppino or other fish stews
What To Look For In Canned Crab Meat
When you do a comparative test among different brands of canned crab meat, you can immediately discern differences in the size, color, texture, shell content, scent and the flavor of the meat. Each bite of crab meat should taste and smell the same. If it doesn’t, you need to find a better brand.
Cooking With Crab
If you are planning on buying crab legs, try not to buy ones that have been thawed, since they will not retain their taste and freshness. Always try to buy frozen crab legs or pre-cooked and frozen crab legs.
Thawed crab legs can be maintained in the refrigerator for two days before they go bad, but they should really be cooked as soon as they have been defrosted.
To defrost frozen crab legs, place them in the refrigerator for about 8 hours. If you place them on a rack in a watertight container, they can drain as they are defrosting.
Pre-cooked frozen crab legs can be heated in a number of ways, even in the microwave. My preferred way is to bake them in the oven.
To bake crab legs
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Crack the whole crab legs and place them on a baking tray.
Brush the crab legs with butter or oil, seasoning and lemon juice and bake in the oven for 8 – 9 minutes.
Crab Stuffed Artichokes
4 appetizer servings
- 4 artichokes
- 1 lemon, thinly sliced
- 2 teaspoons crab boil or Old Bay Seasoning
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1/2 cup finely diced onion
- 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
- 1 teaspoon chopped oregano leaves
- 1/2 cup Italian style bread crumbs
- 1 cup crab meat
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- Salt and pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Cut the stems from the artichokes to leave a neat, flat base. Lay each artichoke on its side, and cut away the upper third with a sharp knife. With kitchen shears, remove the prickly leaf tips from each remaining leaf. Rub the cut sides and bottom with a lemon slice, squeezing lemon juice onto the cut areas and set aside.
Place the prepared artichokes, lemon slices, crab boil and bay leaves in the boiling water and simmer, partially covered, until the bottom is tender and can be pierced with a sharp knife and an outer leaf pulls out easily, about 25 minutes.
Drain the artichokes upside down in a colander.
Heat the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until softened, about 4 minutes.
To the onions in the pan, add the garlic and oregano and continue to cook for 30 seconds.
Remove from the heat and stir in the bread crumbs, crab meat, lemon zest, Parmesan and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Mix well and adjust seasonings with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
When the artichokes are cool enough to handle, press the leaves gently back so that the artichoke opens to reveal the inner choke and prickly leaves. Pull out the cone of undeveloped white leaves and gently scrape out the choke with a spoon. Gently pull the leaves outward from the center until the leaves open slightly.
Fill the artichoke cavities with the crab stuffing and pack a little bit into the space between the leaves.
Place the artichokes in an earthenware baking dish and drizzle the tops with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
Pour 1/2 cup of water into the bottom of the dish and place in the oven. Bake until the artichokes are golden brown and the bread crumbs develop a crust, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Transfer to a serving plate and sprinkle each with some grated Parmesan cheese. Serve with additional lemon wedges.
Cioppino-Style Roasted Crab
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 6 large garlic cloves, pressed
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 2 cups bottled clam juice
- 2 – 15-ounce cans chopped tomatoes in juice
- 1 cup water
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 cup (packed) fresh Italian parsley leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon (scant) dried crushed red pepper
- Coarse kosher salt
- 2 - 2-pound cooked Dungeness crabs, cleaned, quartered, cracked or 2 pounds Alaska king crab legs
Preheat oven to 400°F. Heat oil in large deep ovenproof skillet or large metal roasting pan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Add wine; increase heat to high and boil 2 minutes. Add clam juice, tomatoes with juice, 1 cup water, bay leaves, parsley and crushed red pepper and bring to boil. Season to taste with coarse salt and pepper.
Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer 15 minutes. Add crab pieces; nestle into sauce. Transfer skillet to oven and roast until crab pieces are heated through, 15 to 20 minutes. Place crab with juices in large bowl to serve.
Spaghettini with Crab and Spicy Lemon Sauce
- 3/4 pound spaghettini (thin spaghetti)
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling
- 1 large garlic clove, pressed
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 1/2 teaspoons anchovy paste
- 1 teaspoon lemon peel
- 1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
- 1 1/2 cups (packed) coarsely chopped fresh parsley plus whole sprigs for garnish
- 8 ounces lump crabmeat, picked over
- 3 ounces prosciutto, sliced crosswise (optional)
Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, heat 4 tablespoons olive oil and garlic in large skillet over medium heat. Mix in the next 4 ingredients.
Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup cooking liquid. Add pasta, 1/4 cup cooking liquid, chopped parsley and crab meat to skillet. Toss over medium heat until sauce coats pasta, adding more cooking liquid by tablespoonfuls to moisten if necessary, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to large platter.Top with prosciutto, if desired. Drizzle with olive oil and garnish with parsley sprigs.
Roasted Shellfish with Fennel and Citrus
- 1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
- 1 tablespoon ground fennel seeds
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 pounds stone crab claws or Canadian snow crab legs, shells cracked with mallet or cut with scissors
- 1 1/2 pounds small clams, scrubbed
- 16 mussels, scrubbed, debearded
- 1/2 cup chopped shallots
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Chopped fresh chives
Preheat oven to 500°F. Place a heavy large roasting pan over 2 burners and heat over medium heat. Add oregano and fennel and stir 1 minute. Add olive oil, cracked crab, clams and mussels; stir to coat. Place pan in the oven. Roast until crab is heated through and clams and mussels open, stirring occasionally and transferring clams and mussels to a platter as they open, about 10 minutes.
After all the shellfish has been transferred to the platter (discard any clams and mussels that do not open); tent with foil to keep warm. Heat the same roasting pan over 2 burners over high heat. Add shallots and wine and boil 1 minute. Add citrus juices and boil until sauce thickens slightly, about 2 minutes. Whisk in butter. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Pour sauce over shellfish. Sprinkle with chives and serve.
- National Crab Meat Day-Cheesy Baked Crab Dip (foodiefriendsfridaydailydish.com)
- All hail Vancouver’s king crab festival (theglobeandmail.com)
- Hair@Crabs (mykonosfoodlab.com)
- Expert Tip: How to Pair Wine with Crab (williams-sonoma.com)
- Rice Noodles with Fresh Crab (williams-sonoma.com)
- Chesapeake’s Crab Cakes (letstalkandwalk.com)
- The Stone Crab Grab (womanwaterwild.wordpress.com)
- Maryland Crab Cakes Online Provides Nutritional Guide to Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Crabcakes (prweb.com)