San Francisco is known for their Dungeness crabs and it was there that I first had one. What I loved was the amount of crab meat from both the legs and body. It didn’t seem as salty as snow crab or Alaskan king crab and enjoyed the taste even more than lobster. Would you believe that back around 1990, I was able to find a small fish market on College Point Blvd with a price of $2.99 per pound? Fuhgettaboutit!
There is much more versatility with crabs then other shellfish. Steam them, boil them, fry a soft shell, or prepare crab cakes. Use them for chowders, soups, and casseroles.
With all of the varieties on the market it is difficult to know just what to get and how they might differ in taste or texture. Can you get a whole crab or just the legs or claws? How about just getting a can of crab meat? Except for “live crabs” are the frozen ones already cooked? Crabs are best purchased at a fish market such as Crossbay Sea Shell Fish Market in Howard Beach. You may get better answers on both how long the products have been on the ice or the freezer as well as personal service.
Let’s look at some info beginning with Blue Crabs, found in the Atlantic Ocean and sold live, cooked whole, frozen or picked meat in a container. You see them as either claw meat or lump. Sometimes you can get the claws themselves. Restaurants tend to use the lump crab meat to make crab cakes. Claw meat is less expensive and sweeter. Both are great for cocktails. When sold in containers it is pasteurized. Once opened the refrigeration shelf life is 4-7 days.
Soft-shell crabs are blue crabs that have molted. In other words, they shed their old shell and begin forming a new one which only occurs for a few days before the hard shell starts to come in. This delicacy is eaten whole and can be most delicious if cooked properly. There is minimal cleaning which your local fish market vs. a supermarket can do, if you choose. Keep in mind that they are alive in the fish market and NOT after they are cleaned.
One idea is to simply dredge the crab in flour and seasoning (if you want) . I used butter rather than olive oil making sure that the pan was very hot. Saute about 5 minutes on each side. That’s it. A pinch of salt was just enough. You may want to squeeze some lemon juice. I found the shell to be quite “chewable” and not as if I accidentally left a shell of a crustacean such as shrimp.
Jonah Crabs are the Atlantic’s substitute for Dungeness, although they do not look alike. They are found off the coast from Maine to North Carolina and are sold in clusters, as legs or claws only.
Alaskan King Crabs are the largest in size. Most likely you have never seen the whole crab as it is usually sold cooked and frozen in legs and claws. Even if you were to buy one, you would not be picking meat from the body. The meat is known for being moist and sweet. Excessive saltiness is a sign that the cooked crab wasn’t chilled properly prior to brine freezing. The average crab harvested weighs about six pounds and can grow much larger. Due to its delicate flesh it deteriorates quickly. If you purchase it frozen, keep it frozen until ready to cook.
Snow Crabs come from both Atlantic and Pacific coasts in the United States. They are typically sold frozen in clusters of legs to include some attached meat from the body. These are the most common crabs found in restaurants that are featuring crab.
Stone Crabs, found along the Atlantic Coast are known for their claws as that is the only part that is eaten. Crabbers will remove one claw and return the crab to water as these crustaceans regenerate a new claw. Claws tend to be sweet and succulent.
Fish markets and restaurants tend to purchase crab legs in frozen form. Once they have thawed out, they need to be eaten within two days. Take note that they cannot be refrozen. Get the frozen legs home and to your freezer asap unless you are preparing to eat them that day. Keep in mind that they are already cooked, especially if you are preparing a cocktail appetizer, for instance.
Live crabs need to be kept alive until you’re ready to cook them unless the fish market cleans them for you. Otherwise, place them in a pan of water, cover them with a wet cloth and place in the coldest section of your refrigerator where they’ll keep for up to two days. If you want to freeze a whole crab, cook it first. Once cooked, drop into ice water, quickly dry and place in a freezer bag, first removing the air.
If you have leftover crabmeat, remove it from the shell and store it in the fridge for up to two days or stored in the freezer in plastic bags from which the air has been removed. The crabmeat will keep in the freezer for up to four months.
FYI…there are no carbs in crabs.