Crab

Crab

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Encyclopedia of Food and Cookery

The large mud crab, with its fierce, awesome claws and large, bulky body, is one of the delicacies of the table. It ranges in colour from dark olive-green to brown and turns a bright red when cooked. The weight can be up to 2.5 kg for a large specimen; however, the weight most commonly sold is about 750 g. The meat from the claws is of exceptional flavour; the flesh from the body, picked from between the thin shell walls, is sweet and delicate.

The blue swimmer crab is one of the smallest and best eating crabs. Also called sand or blue manna crab, it is bluish-green, the long legs, paddles and claws a vibrant cobalt blue – hence the name; it changes its colour to orange-red when cooked. The average size is around 250–375 g, although they can reach a weight of over 1 kg.

The giant Tasmanian crab is one of the largest of all crabs and is rivalled only by the Alaskan king crab and huge spider crabs caught off Japan. It makes excellent eating, being very meaty with a fine flavour and texture; however, it is not fished commercially in any quantity, and so does not often appear in fish markets.

When buying crab, alive or cooked, choose crabs that feel heavy for their size, and smell fresh and sweet with no hint of ammonia.

Crabmeat is available in tins. Picked crabmeat is also available in packets, both fresh and frozen – useful when crabmeat flesh is used in a recipe. To cook: First drown the crab (or crabs) in fresh water. Bring a large saucepan of fresh seawater (or salted water) to the boil, drop in a bouquet garni, 1 sliced carrot, 1 halved onion, 2 sliced sticks celery, and simmer gently for 10–15 minutes, depending on the size. Remove the crabs when they turn red. To prepare a cooked crab for eating: At all times work with a cloth to protect the hands. Remove the big claws and set aside; twist off the legs. Remove the undershell by using thumbs to prise out round body section from underside. Remove and discard the beige, spongy gills lying flat against inner side of body shell. Cut the undershell body in two. You now have 2 semi-circles; each semi-circle is divided by thin shell partitions into 4 segments. Split through the semi-circle horizontally, then you can scoop out the meat from between the partitions with a small spoon. Place the flesh in a bowl and discard the rest.

To crack the claws: Fold double newspaper over them, crack with a hammer, then pull out the meat. Sometimes the claws and legs are cracked and served with a fork, the diner extracting the flesh.

To crack crabs: Remove claws and legs; crack shell with a hammer. Remove the undershell, discarding spongy gills. Cut undershell in two, then cut each semi-circle horizontally (see To Prepare a Cooked Crab for Eating, left).

Hot Crabs with Butter: Cook crabs as above, crack them open, and arrange on a large plate.

Melt 125 g butter with 125 ml white wine, 3 tablespoons chopped parsley, 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme and 2 tablespoons chopped spring onions (scallions); pour butter mixture over cracked crabs. The meat is extracted, then dipped in butter. Place plenty of paper napkins, and a finger bowl.

Crab Salad: Prepare cooked crab as described at left. The flesh may be returned to the cleaned and washed crab shell or set on a bed of shredded lettuce. Surround with cracked claws and legs. Send to table with freshly made mustard, the curd from the crab mixed with cream or mayonnaise, some good mild vinegar and brown bread and butter.

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
see method for ingredients

Method

Note:

  • There is a mustardy curd present in all crustacea – its presence in abundance indicates not only freshness but quality. This curd is often added to a little cream or mayonnaise and served with the crab.

    Mustard enhances the flavour of crab and should always be used in crab sandwiches.
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