Here’s last year’s post about Dungeness crab, which includes detailed instructions on how to cook and clean a crab, along with links to come of my favorite recipes from the Seasonal Pantry archives. Stay tuned for new information about the start of this year’s season and several new recipes.


Skinny crabs and big waves, heavy winds and small boats: The start of the 2010 Dungeness crab season is off to a somewhat rough start.

Tony Anello's crab trawler is named Annabelle. Tony and his wife Carol operate the enormously popular Spud Point Crab Company in Bodega Bay

Dave Legro, who sells fish and shellfish at farmers markets in Healdsburg and Sebastopol, explained last night on my radio show Mouthful that only the largest boats, many that have come down from Oregon and Washington, were able to head out to drop their pots yesterday morning. Smaller boats, including Dave’s Bumblebee, would immediately capsize in the rough surf and heavy wind. He’s hoping to go out Wednesday.

But one way or another, local Dungeness crabdeclared the best in the world by many experts--should be showing up in local markets within hours, fingers crossed. You wanted to be prepared, don’t you? Eat This Now is here to help.

For the most succulent crab, you must cook it yourself. Although you can find good and sometimes even great tasting cooked crab in a market, it is, in general, cooked too long, usually 17 minutes, which not only cooks the crab meat thoroughly; it also cooks out the fat, which is essential to both flavor and juiciness.

The most difficult crab you’ll ever cook is your first one. It is not at all difficult but the thought of it seems daunting to the novice. Here is the technique I’ve used forever, or almost. If you employ a different technique, please post it in the comment section. Add your favorite ways of enjoying our local delicacy, too. And check back in a day or two, for Eat This Now’s list of best sources for local crab.

How to Cook & Clean Live Dungeness Crab

  • First, prepare an ice water bath. Fill a large bowl about one-third full with ice and cover the ice with water, making sure the bowl is no more than half full. Set it aside.
  • Fill a large pot about two-thirds full with water and salt it heavily, about 1/4 cup per gallon of water, and bring it to a boil over high high. When it boils, quickly plunge the crab into the water, mouth down, and cover the pan. Cook small crab (1 1/4 pounds or less) for about 7 minutes, larger ones for about 12 minutes; an unusually large crab might need  16 minutes.  For crab that will undergo additional cooking for soups, stews or pasta sauces, cook small crab for about 6 minutes and large ones for 9 to 10 minutes.
  • For chilled crab, immediately plunge the cooked crab into the ice water bath for 10 to 15 minutes.  Remove the chilled crab from the bath and drain thoroughly.
  • To serve the crab hot, you’ll need to wear heavy rubber gloves to clean it.
  • To clean the crab, hold it in one hand, top-side up, and with the other hand, grasp the top shell and lift it up, pulling it away from the body.  Set the shell aside.
  • Turn the crab over and tug on the breastplate, a triangle-shaped section, lifting it up and off the crab.  Turn the crab over again and remove and discard the finger-like gills on either side of the body.  Remove and discard the intestine, nestled in the center of the back, and twist off the mouth.  If the recipe you’re using calls for butter, the mustardy yellow edible organs and fat located in the body cavity, or it you just happen to like it, remove and reserve it.  Twist off the legs and set them aside.  Rinse the body under cool water and break it in half with your hands or with a large cleaver.
  • To pick the meat, break the body into sections and simply pull out the meat, being sure to remove all pieces of shells.  Use a small mallet or a nutcracker to crack the legs, and use your fingers to remove the meat.

Chef Ray Tang’s Crispy Dungeness Crab Fritters Not long after Mariposa closed, chef Ray Tang and I spent a few days together talking and cooking crab. Here’s one of his recipes.

Ray’s Roasted Crab More from a favorite chef

The Best Crab Louis in the World All it takes is crab, lettuce and a perfect Louis dressing. All those other things, eggs, tomatoes, green beans, beets, whatever, are embellishments, not traditions. Add a delicate pinot noir or a sparkling rose alongside for a fall feast.

Simple Fettunta, Embellished with Crab, Radishes & Avocado Call it fettunta, call it bruschetta: Either way, it is a winter delight

Dungeness Crab with Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette Lemon and crab are among the happiest companions of the culinary world.  What to drink? Sauvignon Blanc, of course, though you may want to try Woodenhead French Colombard alongside. It is a brilliant match.

Italian-Style Fish Soup with Crab Simpler than cioppino, this soup takes minutes to prepare and is ideal when you want a red wine alongside

Hot Asparagus & Cold Crab with Mustard Cream There’s a late fall crop of asparagus so you don’t have to wait until spring to enjoy this combo

Winter Jewel Salad with Dungeness Crab A perfect appetizer for a formal dinner party

Frisee with Grapefruit, Avocado & Crab Toss it together and call it dinner

A Winter Salad with Spaghettini, Romaine, Grapefruit & Crab Beautiful to behold, delicate on the palate, both light and satisfying in the tummy

Crab Cakes with Fresh Lime Juice Here’s the secret: More crab, less everything else. Crab cakes should taste like crab, not like breadcrumbs, mayonnaise or the other ingredients added to make a firm cake.

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  1. Robin Doran

    Thanks for another great inspiration. I am so excited for crab season. My two faves are composed crab salad with fresh grapefruit sections and avocado and crab cakes on Christmas day! Let the season begin…!

    November 15th, 2010 12:19 pm

  2. Elise Baril

    Love it steamed, served hot, with butter on the side, a big green salad and crusty french bread. Ahhhhhhh…. hoping I can get some TODAY!

    November 15th, 2010 12:58 pm

  3. Marie Gewirtz

    Yummm, first of the season anything is divine, but first of the season crab has my mouth a waterin’. Thanks for adding the recipes as it’s always good to try one’s favorite food just a little differently each season. And, by the way, the last blog on artichokes was a good prelude to crab. Seriously, is there anything better than fresh crab and fresh artichokes? What’s next?

    November 15th, 2010 1:38 pm

  4. J

    I’ve actually never cooked crab myself! You’ve inspired me. I certainly want some crab this year and would love to have artichokes with it!~ ~j

    November 15th, 2010 2:18 pm

  5. Joan Simon

    Totally agree on the proportions in crab cakes; our traditional New Years day meal, made with fresh crab leftovers from the night before. Will try lime instead of lemon this year – thanks fir the idea.

    November 15th, 2010 10:30 pm

  6. Franco Dunn

    Dungeness crab! Oh boy! The most affordable delicacy in California. We are so lucky!

    November 15th, 2010 10:48 pm

  7. ray tang

    MAJ, how I’ve (almost) forgotten about the wonderful time we had doing this recipe together. I still make the fritters at home for dinner parties and it is always a fun crispy starter to drink champagne with.

    In fact, I always remembered your delicious verison of louis dressing and it is now being served at my restaurant, the Presidio Social Club. Dungeness Crab, butter lettuce, the delicious heavy cream fortified Louis Dressing, and a cracked 10 minute egg, all served on a soft torpedo roll.

    Simple love of crustacean-period.

    November 16th, 2010 9:20 am

  8. Teresa

    We’ve cooked our crabs for a number of years. Yes, you will notice freshly-cooked is even more delicious, and less cooking time than markets do enhances the flavor further.
    ONE THING, I wish to add and hope readers do this. Crab have a pain center, albeit a small one. HUMANE way to cook them? Simply put the crabs in freezer for 15-20 minutes (it numbs them) prior to plunging into the boiling water. simple. and HUMANE.
    Thanks for the lovely recipe ideas here MAJ.

    November 16th, 2010 12:00 pm

  9. Violet

    OMG, “a pain center’ Nooo…I guess I will need to numb mine now. I shouldn’t be so surprised it’s a living creature. Thanks for the tip Teresa.

    November 16th, 2010 12:35 pm

  10. MicheleAnna.Jordan

    When I was at the School for American Chefs with Madeleine Kamman, she showed us a technique that she claimed hypnotized and relaxed a lobster. When she learned I had never cooked a lobster (as a California girl, I have always referred Dungeness), she ordered one for me. To relax it, I massaged it between its eyes for several minutes. It seemed to work, as it grew very still. I’ve not tried the technique with crab but it might work. I’ll experiment with my next ones.

    November 16th, 2010 12:52 pm

  11. Glenda Castelli

    Thanks, Teresa. A little freeze will give you the best tasting crab you will ever eat. The Windsor Farmers Market will have plenty of fresh crab and lots of sourdough bread to go with it on Sunday. And the 4th Street Jazz Band will be playing. Jazz and Crab – what more could you ask for?

    December 2nd, 2011 5:21 pm

  12. Elizabeth

    All of the crabs I usually see are pre-cooked. Where do you get live ones?

    December 2nd, 2011 5:43 pm

  13. Elizabeth

    would love to fix the crab cakes, but the PD can’t find the recipe. When I try to google it, they bring me back here…

    December 2nd, 2011 5:52 pm

  14. MicheleAnna.Jordan

    Elizabeth, I’ll look into and if I can’t fix the link, I’ll post the recipe in a separate blog entry.

    December 3rd, 2011 8:01 am

  15. MicheleAnna.Jordan

    There are many sources for live crab, including G & G Market, Santa Rosa Seafood (at farmers markets and at their retail outlet) and in Bodega Bay, directly from certain fishermen. There’s also a place inside the trailer park in Bodega Bay; just turn on East Shore Rd., head down the hill and follow the sign. I haven’t confirmed it for this year yet but I haven’t heard that they’ve closed.

    December 3rd, 2011 8:03 am

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