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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