How to cook a crab

Food & drink
How to humanely kill and cook a live crab

On something of a whim, I bought a couple of live crabs from Kirkgate Market in Leeds.

When we got home, I tipped the crabs into the empty sink and left them there, scaring Jen half to death when one made a determined bid for freedom before she’d noticed its presence.

I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them – I’ve always bought conveniently dressed crabs before –  but a few judicious tweets and a bit of Googling  provided me with everything I needed to know about dispatching and cooking the pair of them.

There’s no real consensus on the best method of killing and cooking a crab.  Some people go for the traditional plunge in a boiling pan as an appropriate and humane way of killing the fish, whilst others prefer killing it outright before boiling it.

Methods of physically killing the crab before cooking vary widely, with the most gruesome involving simply removing the whole shell from the side with a cleaver, something that strikes me as unnecessarily brutal that I wasn’t about to do.

So, this is how I did it.

On balance, this seems to me to be the quickest and most humane way.

Flip the crab onto its back and you’ll see a triangular tail piece pointing up towards the crab’s head.  Lift this back fully, away from the claws, and you’ll see a small cone shaped hole.  Driving a sharp chopstick or screwdriver into the hole, with a sharp tap from a rolling pin, kills the crab instantly.  Do this quickly and decisively, and with enough force to drive the spike right through the crab until it reaches the shell on the other side.

Brown crab showing triangular tail

It’s a fairly gruesome business, but it’s necessary.

Next, cook the crab in plenty of boiling, salted water for about twelve to fifteen minutes for a normal sized half kilo brown crab.  Bigger specimens may need longer.

When the crab is done, take it out of the boiling water and run the cold tap over it briefly to cool it enough to handle, then twist the claws and legs off.  Give each section a sharp tap with a rolling pin to crack the shell.

Prise the shell away from the body and discard the feathery looking gills and anything else that looks like innards. The inside of a crab is hardly appetising…you just need to look beyond that.  Chop the body into quarters to get to some hidden pockets of meat.

There’s plenty you could do with the crab meat.  We just simply ate it with a salad, some home made mayonnaise and a baguette.

The crab was delicious, but the ratio of effort to reward was way out of kilter.  Believe me, extracting the meat from a crab is a slow, tedious, messy job, and it’s probably best left to people who do it for a living.

Let’s just say that later that evening, Jenny went and got a packet of chocolate biscuits from the kitchen and sat munching them in front of  the telly.

Next time, it’s a pre-dressed crab for me.

Live crab

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