Steam Here, Steam There, Steam Everywhere
Commercial fishing vessels steam and flash-freeze crab almost immediately after harvest; it prevents spoilage and creates a safe end product for the consumer. That said, when you steam frozen crab legs, you're simply reheating them – and there are as many ways to reheat crab legs with moist heat as there are to skin the proverbial cat. The stove, the grill, the oven, even the microwave works, all producing excellent results. If you have a heat source, a liquid and a vessel to contain the moisture, you can steam crab legs just about anywhere.
It takes six to 14 minutes to steam crab legs on the stovetop. King crab legs take 10 to 14 minutes, while snow crab legs can take from six to 10 minutes. Stovetop steaming is perhaps the simplest and most common method of steaming crab legs, and you don't even need a steamer setup or metal colander.
To steam crab legs without a steamer or metal colander, make three balls of aluminum foil approximately three to four inches in diameter and set them in the bottom of a large pot. Add two to three inches of water to the pot and bring it to a rolling boil. Set the crab legs on top of the foil, then cover and steam for six to 14 minutes, depending on the size of the legs.
It takes three to four minutes to steam eight ounces of frozen crab legs in the microwave. Microwaving crab legs might sound like heresy, but it isn't. Microwaves don't produce good steaks, for example, but they work well for seafood because the goal here is to lightly steam the crab meat until just heated through, something microwaves excel at.
To steam in the microwave, place the crab legs in a microwave-cooking bag along with one tablespoon of water per eight ounces of legs. While you're at it, add some aromatics, such as dill and lemon wedges. Set the microwave to high and microwave three to four minutes.
It takes seven to10 minutes to steam individual crab legs on the grill and 12 to 15 minutes to steam multiple crab legs. Grilling imparts its uniquely complex, smokey flavor and aroma to any food, and lends to crab legs' flavor profile a wondrous contrast of taste sensations.
To steam crab legs on the grill, wrap the legs in two layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil along with a couple tablespoons of butter, which will create the steam; you can wrap the legs in clusters or individually. Add aromatics, such as herbs and lemons, to the foil packets, if desired. Set the foil packets off to the side of the flame, not directly over it. Close the grill lid and cook individually wrapped legs for seven to 10 minutes and clusters of legs for 12 to 15 minutes.
It takes seven to 10 minutes to steam crab legs in the oven. Although not a conventional method, steaming crab legs in the oven proves its usefulness when you have a a full stovetop, food is already baking and want all the items in a meal ready at the same time.
To steam crab legs in a 350F oven, arrange the crab legs in a shallow baking dish; cut the legs at the joints using scissors if needed to fit. Add about 1/8 inch of boiling water to the baking dish and cover tightly with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Place the dish in the oven and steam the legs for seven to 10 minutes.
Steamed crab legs stay fresh three to five days in the refrigerator.
All seafood must reach 145F for safe serving. However, determining the doneness of crab legs with a meat thermometer proves difficult, so the USDA advises to cook them until their flesh is pearly and opaque.
A.J. Andrews' work has appeared in Food and Wine, Fricote and "BBC Good Food." He lives in Europe where he bakes with wild yeast, milks goats for cheese and prepares for the Court of Master Sommeliers level II exam. Andrews received formal training at Le Cordon Bleu.