How to prepare fresh crab
If you want the best-tasting crab, it pays to buy the freshest live crab you can find, and learn how to prepare it at home.
Follow our tips for buying a live crab and how to prepare it at home.
We also have a video on how to prepare a cooked crab.
Tips when buying crab
Buy a live crab and cook it at home for the freshest, sweetest crabmeat. Choose a lively crab that feels heavy for its size. Don’t buy an uncooked, dead crab – you don’t know how long it’s been dead, so it may not be safe.
And the most humane way to kill and cook it…
• Put the crab in the freezer for 30-40 minutes, which will put it to sleep.
• Remove the crab from the freezer and lay it on its back on a stable surface. Lift the pointed flap on the crab’s underside and push a clean, thin screwdriver or strong metal skewer in a single swift motion through the revealed hole until you hit the shell on the other side (a hammer or heavy pan will help). Lever the implement back and forth, then remove. Quickly turn the crab over and pierce between the eyes, levering the implement from side to side. Remove and you’re ready to cook.
• Bring a large pan of water to the boil over a high heat. Add a handful of salt, drop in the freshly killed crab and boil for 15-18 minutes (for a 2kg). Remove the crab, then prop it up on its nose to cool and drain.
How to remove meat from a cooked crab
1. Once cooled, put the crab, on its back, on a board and break off the claws and legs and set aside.With the eyes furthest away from you tilt the crab so its backside is in the air.
2. Hold the edges of the shell with your fingers, put your thumbs on the leg section (the body), where it joins the main part of the shell, then lever out the body with your thumbs.
3. Pull off and discard the feathery ‘dead man’s fingers’ sticking out from the body. With your thumb, press on teh stomach sac behind the eyes of the crab to break it off. Remove and discard.
4. Scrape out the rich-tasting brown meat from the main shell with a a spoon into a bowl. Mix well with a fork.
5. To get at the white meat in the legs, give them a crack with the back of a heavy knife. Open them and remove the meat into a bowl.
6. Crack open the claws in the same way and pick out the meat, discarding any cartilage.
7. To remove the meat from the leg section of the crab (the body), cut it in half with a heavy sharp knife, then cut in half again. Use your fingers and a crab pick or skewers to get the white meat from the many compartments.
8. When the meat is out, widen the shell’s opening with pliers, then wash it and fill with the white and brown crabmeat. Serve.
What do I do with the brown crabmeat?
The recipes here use just white crabmeat, but if you’ve picked the crabmeat from a crab yourself, you’ll also get some brown crabmeat, which has lots of flavour. Try beating it into softened butter with a little lemon juice and some salt and cayenne pepper, to taste. Chill until firm, and spread on warm toast as a snack. You could also substitute 50g brown meat for the same amount of white meat in our potted crab recipe.
In a hurry?
If you’re pressed for time, you can often buy pasteurized crabmeat from fishmongers or good supermarkets. It doesn’t have such a good flavour but is acceptable. Sometimes the meat is put back into the shell – called dressed crab (check to see if it has been seasoned and find out how much white crabmeat it contains. Occasionally, these consist of mainly brown crabmeat, with a little of the more expensive white meat cunningly scattered over the top, making it look like there is more than there actually is. There’s often very little or no claw meat, either – this is mostly sold separately as a premium product.
See our how-to video here: