Preserving a seafood catch safely is a ticklish proposition; perhaps one of the most difficult is crab. The best way to keep your crab catch safe is actually very counter-intuitive.
When crabbing, always follow The Rule. The Rule is, don’t eat any crab you haven’t killed yourself. Once you’ve pulled and emptied your trap, the crabs must remain alive until you kill them. If they die before then of unknown causes, discard them. No ands, ifs, or buts about this one!
With this rule in mind, keeping your crab alive until ready for killing is the primary task.
The best way to keep crab alive is to keep them dry and cool. This is the counter-intuitive part, since one would assume that keeping an animal in its most natural state would be best. The experts tell us this isn’t so. Incidentally, “the dry and cool rule” applies to many seafood catches, including fish. We stick our crabs in a large bucket with no water, then soak and thoroughly wring out a towel, fold it up and set it in the top of the bucket as a cool cover. We then get the crab home as soon as possible.
If you won’t be eating the crabs right away, you can freeze them live in the freezer. Since we don’t have a refrigerator (see Life Without Refrigeration), we put the bucket in our root cellar, where it stays cool. When the time comes to kill the crabs, we spend a little time with each one to check that they’re still alive. Crabs stored this way become torpid, so we sometimes have to tease them a bit to get them to show movement. Any that don’t, we toss.
Again, it’s best to kill and clean your crabs and cook them as soon as possible. That ensures that your crab meal will be fresh, and lessens the likelihood of food poisoning.
That’s how to keep your crab alive. We’ve already discussed killing them (see Killing and Cleaning Dungeness Crab). Next will be a great way to cook them.