Crabs are prolific creatures, with over 4000 species scuttling around the world's ocean floors. In the UK, we are most used to seeing the brown crab – a seafood treat that chefs adore for both its flavour and relative sustainability.
Crabs contain two types of meat: white and brown. The white meat is pale and delicate compared to the dark meat which has a more intense flavour. If you are looking for larger quantities of white meat, opt for cock (male) crabs which have bigger claws; if you want more brown meat, choose a hen (female).
When preparing your crab, don’t forget to keep the shell to make a crab stock.
Crabs are in season in the UK from April until November – the height of the season is in May and June and can be found in all coastal areas.
To get as much meat for your money as possible, assess live crabs carefully before buying. Avoid crabs that have a lot of water sloshing around inside them and those that feel a bit light for their size – the shell size of a crab doesn’t actually indicate how much meat it contains. Instead, choose a weighty, lively crab and don’t forget to keep the claws firmly closed with the help of rubber bands!
Live crabs should be stored in the bottom of the fridge and covered with a damp tea towel. The coldness of the fridge will keep it sedated until ready to kill and cook.
If buying a whole cooked crab, make sure that they have all their pincers and legs intact – loss of limbs may indicate that they have been poorly cooked and stored.
To kill the crab, turn it over and lift up the small pointed flap – you will see a small hole. With some force, insert a sturdy knife or screwdriver into the hole until you feel it touch the other side of the shell. Turn the crab back over and drain the liquid that will run out.
1. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil – use 30g of salt per litre of water
2. Place the crab in the boiling water to cook – a 1kg crab should take 8–10 minutes
3. Remove the crab from the water and leave to cool before preparing. Do not put the crab into iced water as this will cause it to become waterlogged
Crab is often dressed with mayonnaise and lemon juice and served with bread and butter. Dressed crab is a great addition to salads and sandwiches too.
White crab meat is beautifully light and sweet and complements a host of fresh spring and summer flavours such as cucumber, tomato and mackerel. The white meat also works brilliantly in crab cakes – Shaun Rankin looks to Asia with his Crispy crab, sweetcorn and coriander fritters while Vineet Bhatia has created a South Indian crab cake with crab chutney.
Combining the sweet white meat with the richer brown meat can produce luscious results – have a go at Marcus Wareing’s Crab Benedict. In Nigel Haworth’s dish, he batters and deep fries crab claws and makes ‘crab balls’ out of the brown meat – a great way to show off the whole crab. For a dinner party snack with a difference, why not whip up a batch of Andrew Mackenzie’s Crab sticks; they are an easy yet impressive nibble.