Killing and Cleaning Dungeness Crab

By , June 10, 2013

In my recent post, A Good Day to Dine, I reported that we’d enjoyed our first crab of the season. That reminded me of a series on crabbing that I wrote a few years ago, but never published here.

Those who don’t live in crab country won’t find much use for some of this. Most of the people who do have access to crab already know it; however, these methods work well for us, and we’ve taught them to others, so they’re probably worth mentioning.

I described our crab catching techniques in a former post (see Bless You, Charlie White!). Once we catch them, we have to kill them.

Trust me, you don't want one of these to get a hold of you! (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

Trust me, you don’t want one of these to get a hold of you! (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

Remember that a crab shouldn’t be considered safe to eat if you don’t know what killed it. One’s safest meal comes from crabs killed with one’s own hands.

Many people kill and cook at the same time, dropping live crabs into boiling, salted water. This is quick, convenient, and produces more fat, or “crab butter.” We prefer to clean crab before cooking, which allows us to use a smaller pot and less water.

Dungeness crab are amazingly strong. Their powerful claws deliver a pinch that will break skin, bruise badly, possibly even break smaller hand bones. When killing a crab, do it quickly (for the animal’s sake) without getting hurt (for your sake).

I sometimes use thick gloves for this work, for a little bit of protection. It can be done without protection, especially if you’re fast and sure.

Grasp the crab from above in both hands, encompassing all the legs and claw on each side with each hand. You’ll need the crab out of defensive tuck (all limbs held tightly under its top shell or carapace) and into defensive/attack position, with its claws spread. After the first crab is cleaned, Aly learned to tease the next crab into this position by putting the first carapace in its face—a crab may be intimidated by wiggling fingers (or fast enough to catch them!) but it knows how to handle peer attacks. When those legs spread, swoop down and grasp them tight.

Beware of shrugging! The crab may smash one’s fingers into the two sharp spikes on its carapace. This hurts!

Immediately catch the under edge of the carapace on a sharp angled rock, table edge, or similar strong surface, and pry hard to pop it off. As it goes, bring your hands together beneath the crab, folding and breaking the body in two. A quick shake or two will remove much of the viscera; if not, slosh it in cold water to rinse.

Remove the feathery gills on each side, the belly flap, and mouth parts. I was taught to remove the mottled membrane as well, although many don’t; it doesn’t seem to hurt. What’s left is your tasty crab, ready for the pot!

4 Responses to “Killing and Cleaning Dungeness Crab”

  1. Shona Hilton says:

    Do you have to worry about PSP at all where you live? I was up on Kodiak Island last week and was told that it wasn’t a great choice to eat shellfish/crustaceans you caught yourself there because of PSP and, since we are probably moving there, was quite disappointed about this.

  2. Astrid says:

    I butcher and clean on the farm without hesitation, but reading this….It gives me the shivers…but then I don’t do seafood..that might be it.
    You should have added some pictures.

  3. Mark Zeiger says:

    Astrid, can’t blame you–they are big bugs, after all.

    I didn’t have any photos to add, but I took a nice one today that I may add to the post retroactively.

  4. Mark Zeiger says:

    Yes, Shona, PSP is a big concern up here, even with crab. Last year we had a big to-do about it when a local man went to Juneau with numbness and tingling. The medical people learned he’d eaten crab at a potluck, and assumed he had PSP. He left the hospital, and died shortly after. Turned out it was heart trouble.

    I think I wrote about this on the blog last year. Try plugging PSP into the search feature on the blog, and you can read about it.

    We’ve given up on clams and mussels because of PSP, but crabs get it in their viscera. Since we’re very careful about cleaning them, we’re not worried about it there.

Leave a Reply

Panorama Theme by Themocracy