Crabs are a nutritious shellfish delight, and can be prepared in many ways. Here are tips on choosing the best crab, and recipe ideas for preparing this popular crustacean.
- When sold live, fresh crabs should smell briny-fresh, and look bright and clean. Aside from soft-shell crabs, shells of crabs should be hard and moist. Live crabs should be active, moving their legs when touched. Choose crabs that feel heavy for their size.
- Cooked crab should smell perfectly fresh, with no trace of ammonia or “fishy” odor, and should have bright orange-red shells. Crabmeat should be snowy-white, though meat from some parts of the crab may be tinged with brown or red. Cooked crabs should be purchased the same day they were cooked. Fresh-cooked crab should not be displayed alongside raw fish or shellfish, as bacteria can migrate from the raw to the cooked.
- Crab meat sold outside the shell is available fresh cooked, frozen, and canned. Fresh crabmeat is sold as lump, backfin, or flake. Lump crabmeat, which consists of large, choice chunks of body meat, is the finest and most expensive. Backfin is smaller pieces of body meat. Flake is white meat from the body and other parts, and is in flakes and shreds. Some fresh-cooked crab is pasteurized after cooking, which helps it keep longer. Canned crab is often imported from Asia and may come from a variety of species.
How to store crab at home
It’s best to cook and eat live crabs the same day they are purchased. Fresh-cooked crabmeat will keep for two days, refrigerated.
How to prepare live crab
If you plan to boil live hard-shell crabs, you can simply drop them headfirst into boiling water. If you plan to cook them by another method, such as broiling, they need to be killed first. To kill a live crab before broiling, place it belly-side up on a cutting board. Lay a heavy chef’s knife lengthwise on the belly of the crab, and strike it firmly with a mallet to cut the crab in half. If you want the fish seller to perform this task for you, be sure to make your purchase shortly before you plan to cook the crabs.
Before using cooked crabmeat, check for any stray pieces of cartilage or shell. Pick over the crabmeat and discard any shell or cartilage you may find. Chances are, even if you’ve purchased crabmeat that is clean, it will still have a little shell or cartilage in it.
How to make a “crab boil”
Crabs are often cooked in what is called “crab boil,” which is simply water seasoned with a traditional combination of spices. The spice mixture can be purchased in any area where live crabs are sold. Or, you can make your own by adding to the salted cooking water a few whole mustard seeds, dill seeds, coriander seeds, allspice berries, a whole clove, bay leaves, and a pinch of cayenne or crushed red pepper. The spices can be added directly to the water, or, for easy removal, placed in a square of cheesecloth and tied with a piece of string. Add a squeeze of lemon juice to the water as well.
6 crab recipe ideas
1. Steam crabs and serve with melted lemon butter or a Thai dipping sauce made with lime juice, soy sauce, and a touch of brown sugar.
2. Toss crabmeat with some greens and sliced mango for a fresh and sweet salad.
3. Mix crabmeat with panko breadcrumbs, a little mayonnaise, lemon juice, spices, and an egg for tasty crab cakes.
4. Substitute crab for some of the clams in Manhattan clam chowder.
5. Toss shredded crabmeat with diced mild green chilies, cooked black beans, and chopped tomatoes, and wrap in flour tortillas.
6. Sprinkle a small amount of shredded crabmeat and corn over pancakes as they cook for a savory brunch or lunch.
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