Cover your table with crab paper (or newspaper) and make sure you have plenty of paper towels on hand. Prepare some melted butter with lemon juice. Dump the crabs in the middle of the table and get crackin’:
- Twist off the legs and claws off the body. Discard the legs and put the claws aside for now.
- Pull off the apron (the flap located on the abdomen).
- Turn the crab over and pull upward on the shell from the back of the crab peeling it forward.
- Grab each side firmly and bend in the middle, breaking in half. Take each half and break those in half too.
- Pick the meat from each half. (Pro tip: slide the extracted meat across the top shell to pick up some delicious seasoning)
- Crack the claws with a mallet and extract the meat.
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1) Crab Cakes
Surely you have tried traditional crab cakes in just about every seafood restaurant that will serve them. Still, blue crab has a special taste that will make a regular crab cake taste better. If you haven’t had a crab cake in a proper Maryland seafood restaurant, then you haven’t had a crab cake.
There are many great places to get real crab cakes in Maryland, but if you want to make them yourself, we refer you to McCormick’s recipe. They’re the Maryland based company that makes Old Bay seasoning, so we think they would know. Their recipe includes :
- 2 slices white bread, crusts removed and crumbled
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 2 teaspoons OLD BAY® Seasoning
- 2 teaspoons Parsley Flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon prepared yellow mustard
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 pound lump crabmeat
Crab cakes are typically served either broiled or fried, and either as a platter with two crab cakes or on a sandwich. The best crab cakes generally have jumbo lump crab meat and very little bread filler.
The Maryland style crab seasoning is made from different spices, paprika and rock salt. Many use Old Bay as their crab seasoning, however, Old Bay lacks rock salt which is one of the main ingredients in steaming crabs Maryland Style. JO spice #2 seasoning is also a very common choice. The JO Spice includes the rock salt.
Alaska King Crab
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration / http://www.afsc.noaa.gov/ 2010 / Public Domain
Alaska king crabs gave edible meat in claws and legs.
Break off the claws and legs. Use your knife handle to crack them open so you can get at the meat inside them.
Discard the body.
Techygirlga / wikimedia / 2010 / public domain
Stone crabs have edible meat in their claws only.
Break off the claws. Use your knife handle to crack them open so you can get at the meat inside them.
Discard the body and legs.
Lump crabmeat is large pieces of crab from any type of crab that can be used for “presentation”, such as in salads, open-face sandwiches, pastas, etc.
You may see it in tubs in grocery store chillers.
Tub of lump crab meat. Tony Weeg / wikimedia / 2008 / CC BY 2.0
Crab mustard (aka tomalley)
Crab mustard aka tomalley. Shizu k / wikimedia / 2007 / CC BY-SA 2.0
Many people love the strong-tasting, yellow stuff inside a crab. It is a gland that branches out on both sides of the crab’s stomach to function as its liver and pancreas. In areas where the water may be doubtful, it’s best not to eat this, as part of its function is to filter impurities, so any chemical contaminants will be concentrated in the mustard.
Still, aficionados gauge their entire cooking of the crab on what state they want the mustard in — neither hard nor runny, they feel it is best cooked just until it is like a soft-boiled egg.
Unsplash / Pixabay.com / 2016 / CC0 1.0
Allow about 500 g (1 pound) of unshelled crab per person. In the summer, ask your seafood dealer for female crabs; in the spring, ask for male crabs.
Before cooking crabs, let them come to room temperature so that you can see if they are alive or not. Discard any dead ones.
Crabs may “drop” their claws in an attempt to escape while being cooked. To prevent this, either drop them in ice water a few minutes before cooking to stun them, or kill them by poking an ice pick or a nut pick through their heads (flip the crab upside down — stab them through the shell just below their mouth.) Alternatively, you can pop the live crabs in the freezer until there is no movement from them when poked. This may take up to 1 1/2 hours, but don’t leave them in there longer than 2 hours. This also is considered a “humane” way of killing them, because — or so the theory goes — they painlessly slide into unconsciousness. When removing them from the freezer, bear in mind that their claws will now be very brittle, so be careful not to knock them off.
If you have kitchen scales, they’ll come in handy now. Weigh each crab, and plan to cook according to the following guide:
- Weight up to 500 g (1 pound): 15 minutes;
- Weight up to 1 kg (2 pounds): 20 minutes;
- Weight up to 1.5 kg (3 pounds): 25 minutes;
- Any weight over that, 30 minutes.
Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add about 1 teaspoon of salt per litre / quart of water.
Cook the crabs until their shells turn red and the meat inside is white. A crab’s shell turns red when cooked because the heat destroys all the other pigments except the red. The red pigment, which is called astaxanthin, is heat stable, and comes to prominence when the others disappear.
Literature & Lore
Clementine Paddleford, a famous food writer, wrote this for Gourmet Magazine in 1944:
“Cooked crab meat comes in two forms, washed and unwashed, and therein lies that little difference in flavor. Which of the two styles you prefer is merely a matter of taste. Washing removes the ‘fat,’ or immature roe, and gives the whiter meat. Florida supplies 50 per cent of the crab meat on the Eastern markets, and sends the washed only, for the good business reason that the average shopper prefers white meat to ivory-toned. But there is an exclusive group of crab meat epicures who, breathing the rarefied Olympic air of gourmetdom, are willing to pay a dividend for the meat unwashed, claiming it to be richer and more flavorful. Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia send the bulk of the meal unwashed. And no doubt about it, the flavor is more staunchly crab. But you may prefer the meat of greater whiteness, the more delicate taste.”1
Hung Diesel / Pixabay.com / 2015 / CC0 1.0