Saturday, December 31, 2011

Dungeness Crab: Selecting and Reheating

Half Crab on Plate
One Half Crab Per Person

Recipe for New Year's


The very last day of 2011, a time to reflect on the past year and contemplate the New Year ahead. On the central CA coast, New Year’s is also a traditional time to enjoy crab. This year is particularly good, as the Dungeness crab population is booming and crab season opened almost a month early. The Dungeness crab fishery is sustainable, with very little bycatch. Crab pots are designed to catch only legal-size individuals, and have little impact upon the surrounding environment.


Reheating Crab: Damp Towel & Microwave
Crab is delicate and perishable once caught, and it’s important to cook it while it’s still alive. Most often we find it pre-cooked in the market, steamed close to where it was caught. My comments today are about selecting and preparing crab of this variety. In the New Year we’ll get into the more challenging method of finding and cooking live crabs.

Selecting Crab

Crab meat deteriorates and becomes fishy-tasting rapidly, so you want to find the freshest source and avoid others. Find a market where crab inventory turns over quickly. Some clues: many customers are buying it, or the number of crabs available decreases dramatically throughout the day.

Crab, Two Bowls, Kitchen Shears, Small Fork, Nutcracker
Assembling Tools to Crack Crab
Asking when the crab was delivered, where it was caught, etc. will give you more clues. If the workers can’t answer these questions, look for another source. It’s even better if you see a sign identifying the fishing fleet that caught them, like at Staff of Life in Santa Cruz.

Buy crab early in the day. It’s a good idea to ask when the crab was delivered, if you’re not sure that the market gets daily deliveries.

I like getting crabs professionally cleaned where I buy them. If you need the carapace for the way it looks on the plate, it can usually be saved as well. Crab innards are very perishable and can affect the taste of the part you will eat, especially if you reheat it.

Using Fork and Fingers on Crab Body
Cracking Crab 1: Remove Meat from Body
I don’t advise cracking (as in “cleaned and cracked” crab, as butchers can have a rather heavy hand and smash the shell into the meat, or make a limp soggy mess when reheated. At times I’ve asked for “light cracking” along with cleaning, with success.

If crabs weight 1 lb. or more, allow a half-crab per person. If you think some guests might eat more than that, get some extra. You can always use leftover crab for crabcakes (recipe soon!) For sweetest taste, be sure to remove it from the shell as soon as you can.

Using Nutcracker on Crab Claw
Cracking Crab 2: Remove Claw Meat
Preparing Crab

Prepare and eat crab as near to the time that you buy it as possible. It makes a great lunch as well as dinner.

Cleaning the crab before reheating (if not cleaned in the market) will result in better taste.

To reheat, I prefer the microwave, because less cooking is needed. Always use damp heat, and check frequently to avoid overcooking. Wrap in damp towel (paper okay) and microwave about a minute, more if you like it hotter, but no more than 2 minutes. Others recommend traditional steaming: put into traditional steamer and steam for 5 – 10 minutes, till hot. Don’t overcook!

Serve with a regular nutcracker and small fork. Kitchen shears can also be useful in removing meat from shells.


Using Shears on Crab Leg
Cracking Crab 3: Removing Leg Meat
Cracking Crab for use in Recipes

Be forewarned that this process can be messy. Wear an apron or old shirt. Cover surface with butcher paper. Assemble two bowls (one for crabmeat, one for shells), kitchen shears, small fork, and nutcracker. 

Remove legs from body. Shell is thin on body, so you can tear it with your fingers (or use shears) and remove meat with small fork or your fingers.

Use nutcracker to crack claws, remove meat with fingers or small fork.

Legs can sometimes be cracked with nutcracker, but most often this will collapse shell into meat. I prefer to use the kitchen shears, and remove the meat with my fingers or the fork.

Happy New Year All! Let’s honor the passing of 2011 by remembering what we’ve learned and done, and welcome 2012, a blank slate to begin filling with happy memories.

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