A Quick, Tasty Alternative to the "Same Old"
The usual instructions for making frozen crab legs starts with thawing the legs overnight in your fridge, assuming you knew yesterday that you'd be having crab today. That's not always the case, but fortunately thawing is optional. You can cook frozen legs in all the same ways as thawed or fresh legs; it just takes a bit longer. Even so, they're quick enough to be an ideal option for those nights when don't want to settle for the usual meal ideas.
You're Really Just Reheating
Crab is a seriously perishable food, so processors almost invariably cook the crab legs as soon as they're landed, and then flash-freeze them to preserve that fresh, sweet, delicate flavor. That means you're not cooking a raw seafood product, but simply reheating one that's ready to eat. You can confirm this yourself at a glance: If they crab legs are red, they're already cooked. That's why most cooking methods require just a few minutes, barely long enough to get your side dishes organized. A few of your best options include:
Steaming. Once steam is billowing freely from your steamer, open it and carefully—don't burn yourself with the steam—drop in the leg clusters. Once the steam is flowing freely again, start timing: Dungeness or snow crab legs will need 6 to 8 minutes, while big king crab legs might need 10 minutes.
Boiling. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and add a seasoning mix such as Old Bay if you wish. Drop in the crab clusters, bring the water back up to a simmer, and give them about 6 minutes.
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Microwaving. Put the clusters in a large microwaveable bowl, add 2 to 3 tablespoons of water, and cover with a plate or vented lid. Heat for about 2 minutes on high, then check the legs. If they're not heated through, keep going in 30 second increments.
Baking or Grilling. Heat your oven or grill to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, and wrap the legs in heavy foil. Cook for 14 to 16 minutes. Alternatively, heat one side of your grill and place bare, uncovered clusters of crab legs over the unheated side. Close the lid and cook for about 10 minutes before checking the legs, then again at 2 minute intervals until they're done.
Broiling. Position the broiler pan 7 to 8 inches from the element, then bring it up to temperature. Broil for 6 to 8 minutes.
Checking for Doneness
The goal with frozen crab is to heat it thoroughly, but not to leave it overcooked and dry. The only really effective way to find out whether it's ready is to crack a leg and try it. If it's still cold or barely warm in the middle, it needs a bit longer. If it's piping hot, it's ready. The Food and Drug Administration suggests bringing all seafood to a temperature of 145F when tested with an instant-read thermometer. If you have one, insert it lengthwise into the thickest part of the leg to get an accurate reading.
Fred Decker is a trained chef, former restaurateur and prolific freelance writer, with a special interest in all things related to food and nutrition. His work has appeared online on major sites including Livestrong.com, WorkingMother.com and the websites of the Houston Chronicle and San Francisco Chronicle; and offline in Canada's Foodservice & Hospitality magazine and his local daily newspaper. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.