If you live on the Pacific coast, this is necessary information! Dungeness crabs are a fantastically tasty treat, as well as a lean, healthy, delicious holiday tradition. This Instructable will teach you how to cook and clean your own fresh Dungeness crab at home.
Why settle for soggy, pre-cooked and pre-picked Dungeness crab when you can prepare it fresh? Here are the basic tips you need to host your own crab feed, or make a perfect crab dinner for yourself.
There are many options.
1) Go crabbing. Get your fishing license and set out some crab traps! If you've got a boat, or a friend with a boat, this should be easy. If not, consider getting a free boat.
2) Buy a fresh crab. Your local farmers' market might have a fresh crab stand; I got mine at the Oakland Grand Lake market. Seafood shops, yuppie grocers, and asian grocery stores may also carry fresh crab.
3) Buy a pre-cooked crab. This is sub-optimal, but will certainly do if you really can't find a live source or don't want to deal with live pinchers. In any case proceed to step 4 to clean your crab.
Note that a happy crab will be active and feisty when disturbed. Pick him* up with tongs or carefully with your hands, making sure to grab at the back of the shell. The crab can reach pretty far back under his body to pinch, but your upper fingers are quite safe. You can also grab hold of a couple of back legs on either side to immobilize your crab, but be careful not to break them off.
*you're only allowed to keep and eat the males
Steam or boil your crab at ~7-8 minutes/pound, lid on but cocked to allow a bit of venting. I chose to steam mine because I've got a large steamer insert, and steam decreases the amount of water retained in the body cavity. Boiling will get the job done quite well, though, and more people are likely to have a big pot than a big steamer.
If you're adding a large number of crabs, start your timer when the water comes back to a boil. Base your number of minutes on the average crab weight, not the sum total.
Round times down whenever necessary; raw/undercooked crabs can always be cooked further, while overcooked rubbery crab is unsalvageable. Thankfully there's a decent margin for error in crab-cooking.
If you're boiling, you can add some seasonings to your water. Add salt (or use sea water), a bay leaf, some celery chunks, a carrot, some pepper corns, and any other whole spices you've got sitting around. Pre-mixed crab boil seasonings are available, but not necessary.
NOTES FROM THE COMMENTS:
- Take advantage of their cold-bloodedness! Chilling the crabs in the fridge or freezer just before use will slow their metabolism down enough that you can handle them easily.
- You can clean your Dungeness crabs before cooking. This keeps the mess out of the pot and allows for more crabs in the space. Just pre-chill your crab as described above, follow the instructions from steps 3-9, then cook according to this step's directions. However, this approach does require vivisection, which freaks some people out even if the crabs aren't moving. Take your pick. Also, if you've pre-cleaned and halved your crabs, re-weigh the parts (average weight of each half-crab) to determine cooking time.
- many countries/states require you to take your crabs home before breaking them down, so they can be checked for legal size by any passing fisheries officer. If you break them down while still on your boat, it may be construed as an attempt to sneak off with undersized crabs.
Remove your crab from the pot, and rinse under cool water in the sink. This will stop the cooking process, cool down the shell enough for you to handle, and rinse off any icky crab guts that may have oozed out during cooking.
Flip him over a couple of times to get both sides with the spray.
From the comments:
Many people like the crab guts! I'm told they're great on rice or toast, or just sucked directly out of the shell. I was apparently raised wrong, however, so will continue to use words like "icky" and rinse out all the crab guts I see. Please feel free to post recipes that will prove me wrong!
Also, crab guts concentrate any toxins the crabs may be exposed to; make your own decisions on this point.