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Preparing Fresh Crab

Because of its sweet taste, crabmeat is a wonderful addition to a salad or seafood cocktail. Served cold, the fresh meat retains its delicate flavor. When a recipe calls for crabmeat, you can use whatever variety is available locally. Crabs may be purchased alive, cooked and frozen, or cooked with the meat packed in refrigerated tins.

The most flavorful meat is extracted from the crabs you cook yourself. A 1 1/2-lb. crab will yield 4 to 6 oz. of meat. Like lobsters, crabs must be kept alive until cooking. Always select the most active crab and one that seems relatively heavy for its size. To cook a fresh crab, place in rapidly boiling salted water for 9 minutes, then transfer to ice water to halt the cooking. Cooked crabmeat will stay fresh in the refrigerator for 2 days.

Cleaning and Cracking Cooked Crab

1. Rinse the crab under cold running water and scrub it with a small brush to remove any sand and grit.

2. Using your hands, twist off the crab's legs and claws and set them aside.

  • Preparing Fresh Crab 3. Turn the crab upside down, and use your thumb to peel back and twist the apron off the body. (The apron is the small triangular shell flap on the underside.)
  • Preparing Fresh Crab 4. Insert your thumbs into the small crevice between the underside of the crab's body and its top shell. Pull them apart, lifting the top shell off the body and keeping the body intact.
  • Preparing Fresh Crab 5. Scrape out the liver and gray intestines, along with any roe you might find.

    When the shell of a Dungeness crab is removed, discard the lungs, which are the opaque strands on top of the body cavity and under the top shell. Beneath its shell is a yellow mass; these are the edible organs and fat called crab butter. They can be saved and eaten with the crab. Remove and discard the small mouth section and the white intestine that runs along the back.
  • Preparing Fresh Crab 6. Pull off and discard the spongy, feather-shaped white gills from either side of the body.
  • Preparing Fresh Crab 7. Break the crab's body in half to expose the meat. Using your fingers, a knife or a lobster pick, remove the meat from all the body cavities.
  • Preparing Fresh Crab 8. Using a mallet or lobster cracker, crack the shells of the claws in several places, as well as any legs large enough to contain a good amount of crabmeat. Break away the shell pieces and remove the meat with your fingers or a lobster pick. As you work, place the meat in a small bowl nested inside a larger bowl of ice water so it stays cool. After you've pulled out all the crabmeat, be sure to go back through it and remove any bits of shell.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Companion, (Time-Life Books, 2000).