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.
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!