Wherever crabbing is in season, crabbing enthusiasts buy a license, gather up their gear and head out to the open waters. Even if you don’t have a boat or a crab trap, standing on a pier with a long piece of baited string can lure the tasty crustaceans to the surface. Ideally, live crabs should be cooked as soon as possible after you scoop them out of the water, but proper storage gives you some leeway.
Keep Them Cool
After catching crabs, you don’t have to cook them immediately. But you do need to keep them cool — and alive. Place the live crabs in a loosely covered paper bag, then place the bag inside a cooler full of ice — also loosely covered. This should suffice until you can get them to a refrigerator. Once you have access to a fridge, transfer the paper bag to the lower shelf of the refrigerator to keep for as long as 24 hours, according to the book “Crazy for Crab: Everything You Need to Know to Enjoy Fabulous Crab at Home.”
When you’re ready to prepare the live crabs, decide whether you will clean them before cooking or after. The cold chill of the fridge keeps the crabs somewhat sedated, so handling them shouldn’t be too unnerving. If you plan to cook and then clean, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil on the stove. For every gallon of water in the pot, add ¾ cup of salt. Once the water boils, remove the crabs from the paper bags and immerse each crab head first into the water. Boil the crabs for 20 to 22 minutes, then remove each with a pair of tongs and rinse in cool water to cease cooking.
If you opt to clean the crab before cooking, set a large, sharp knife across the abdomen of the crab, vertically, and hit the knife with a rubber mallet. This kills the crab instantly and makes cleaning easier. After cutting the crab in half, remove the gills, tail flap and all of the “green” stuff that you see surrounding the meat. The green stuff is viscera — internal organs — which is unsafe to eat. Give the crab halves a quick water rinse and add them to the pot of boiling water. Boil cleaned halves for 11 minutes, remove and give each a cool water rinse to stop the cooking process.
Cleaning a crab after cooking is a piece of cake compared to cleaning beforehand – and a lot less messy. Remove the back of the crab by forcing the shell against a solid surface. Once the shell falls away from the meat, fold the crab in half upwards and then downwards. Shake the viscera from the crab meat; remove the tail flap and gills; and give each half a freshwater rinse. Serve and enjoy.
Freezing crab prior to cooking is unsafe. However, it is perfectly acceptable to freeze cooked crab. Whether you are freezing crab meat in or out of the shell, the thickness of the packaging should not exceed 1 inch. Wrap the crab tightly in plastic wrap, then wrap once again in aluminum foil or freezer wrap. Finally, place the wrapped crab in a plastic freezer bag, seal, label and date the bag. The cooked crab will keep for approximately four months.
References and ResourcesVirginia Institute of Marine Science: Handline Crabbing
Humboldt Baykeeper: Safety Tips for Cleaning and Cooking Dungeness Crab
Crazy for Crab: Everything You Need to Know to Enjoy Fabulous Crab at Home; Fred Thompson
University of California: Freezing Seafood at Home
Oregon State University: Catching, Cleaning and Cooking Bay Crabs