Note that these aren't the only ways; the primary function of these is to educate and share, but also to encourage and stimulate debate over the differences in the various techniques people use.
This time, we have the common edible crab, Cancer pagarus.
So, without further ado :
1) One edible crab, very much alive. Never buy raw dead crabs, as, like lobsters, the flesh undergoes a process of autodigestion a few hours after death and this ruins the texture. Buy cooked by all means, but do try and buy live if at all possible. Unlike lobsters, killing the crab before boiling is a good idea as otherwise they tend to shed their claws in the water, allowing the water to penetrate the body cavity and make the body meat watery and insipid.
2) Flip the crab on its back. Note that the claws of the crab aren't secured; personally I'm confident enough to use a crab like this but if you're at all wary, please ensure the claws are bound with stout rubber bands. Crab claws can crush fingers causing serious injury.
3) Peel back the ventral flap. You might need to use the point of a knife to get leverage, but once you lift it up do be warned, the crab will not like this and will wriggle around somewhat.
4) Take a thick skewer, and with the tip, find the vent at the base of the flap. Drive the skewer all the way through the crab to behind the eyes.
5) Rotate the crab around so that the front end is facing you. Again, beware the claws.
6) With the skewer, find the mouth of the crab and stab through the body of the crab to the vent end, mirroring your first stab.
7) Wait a moment or two, and your crab should expire. It will go limp and the legs and claws will droop if you pick it up by the vent end as shown.
8) Weigh your crab. Cooking times are around 18 minutes for your first kg, and another 5 minutes for each further 500g / approximately 20 minutes for your first 2.5lbs, and a further 5 minutes per lb. It's not a very exact science, I'm afraid. This crab took 26 minutes.
9) Bring a pan of water to the boil. I use 200g/7oz sea salt per 4 litres/1 gallon of water.
10) Drop the crab carefully into the pot, legs down. Start your timer.
11) When cooked, put the crab in running cold water and leave for five minutes to cool. Assemble your crab picking kit : a steel or rolling pin for cracking the shell, a skewer for picking meat out, and (not pictured) a stout-bladed knife for prising the body off the shell. The forceps are just my backup for nibbling away at shell fragments, and the poultry shears are useful for breaking open legs, but you can do without them. You'll also need a tray and two bowls.
12) Twist all the legs and claws off as close to the body as possible.
13) The part of the crab where the legs joined should now be separated from the main carapace of the crab. Using you knife, slide the tip between the two parts and twist to loosen it. Grasp the leg-joint assembly and lever it away from the carapace. remove the grey feathery gills (called dead man's fingers - you'll see why) from the carapace and from the leg-joint assembly. These are inedible.
14) Using your knife or poultry shears, cut the leg-joint assembly into halves.
15) Using your skewer, pick out the white meat into one bowl, and the brown into another.
16) With your fingers (they have a better reach) scoop out the brown meat from the carapace into your bowl.
17) Place the claws against a hard surface, and tap with the steel until they crack. With the claws and legs, try and strike along the length, not across it; this tends to reduce the chance of fragmenting the shell into lots of little pieces which are then a pain to remove from the picked meat. Use the skewer to pick the meat out, paying attention to the hard cartilaginous 'bones' that reside in the claws and upper legs. Repeat with the legs. I don't bother picking the meat from any apart from the largest piece of each minor leg - it's too fiddly unless you have a lot of time on your hands.
18) This shows the amount of meat gained from one crab. It's good practice to manually pick over your white crab meat at this stage to remove odd bits of shell and cartilage.
19) The detritus from the picking process.
20) White meat - 250g, brown meat - 130g, and it took me 20 minutes to pick the crab apart once cooked and take the photos.
So, your thoughts? Does anyone's technique differ markedly, and for what reasons?
Edited by culinary bear, 19 February 2005 - 06:57 AM.