Howto: Fix a Whole Dungeness Crab

Over the weekend, I went to my local Whole Foods looking for new recipe ideas.  As I was passing by the seafood department, I noticed that whole dungeness crabs were on sale for $9/lb.  I had just watched an episode of Guy’s Big Bite on Food Network where host Guy Fieri had stir fried whole dungeness crabs.  It had me hungry.  I bought one of the monsters.

The funny thing about the dungeness crab…it sort of made me believe in aliens.  It’s an odd mushroom shaped critter with spindly little legs and two mean looking claws.  Not very earthly at all.

I still decided to eat it.  Here’s what I did to prepare it for cooking: 

Note: the crab I bought was preboiled.  If it had not of been, I would have dunked the little guy into a pot of boiling water for 12-20 minutes.  The one I had was almost two pounds, so I definitely would have gone over the 12 minute mark 

Step 1: Remove the top shell of the crab.  This is the large cranial shell on top of the crab which protects its body. 

  1. To do this, put the palm of your hand on top of the crab so that your fingers point away from the crab’s front.  You should be able to wrap your fingers around the back edge of the shell.
  2. Pull up on with your fingers so that your hand makes a 90 degree angle to your arm.  As you do this, the crab’s shell should pop off and fall away without too much effort.
  3. If the crab shell is still attached at the front, it can easily be pulled off using either hand.
  4. Save the shell and turn it into stock!

Step 2: Cleaning the crab.  If you did not think it looked like an alien before, surveying the innards of a crab should make you feel like you are in a science fiction movie.  You have three tasks: removing any cartilage, removing the gills, and determing what to do with the crab butter.

  1. Cartilage is long pieces of white, tough material.  There should be at least two resting on the gills, which are triangular greenish-yellow areas near the crab’s face.
  2. Using a knife, cut the cartilage and gills away from the body of the crab.  Use a finger to poke around.  Any other tough, stringy pieces of material will be extra cartilage.  Remove it.
  3. Now comes the fun part.  See that yellow lumpy stuff in the middle of the crab?  You have uncovered the little guy’s digestive tract.  That was his last meal.  In polite circles, this is called crab butter (because crab digestive innards has a distasteful ring) and for some, it  is delicacy.  I tend to avoid eating digestive tract materials whenever possible.  I used a spoon and the butcher’s paper that Whole Foods used to wrap my crab to get as much of it out as I could.
  4. Check for more cartilage and remove if found.

As a side note, there’s nothing poisonous or harmful about cartilage, it is just impossible to chew and might be a choking hazard for children.

Now for the Fun Part.

  1. Take a rolling pin and crack the shell on the legs and claws.  Work out some stress.  Make some noise.  Let the kids help.
  2. Now, optionally you can cut the crab into halves or quarters depending on your recipe and preference.  I cut mine into halves before cooking.

Next time I’ll talk sauces.  Anyone have a favorite Dungeness crab recipe?

1 Comment

  1. I have a confession to make… I have a hard time cooking food that LOOKS like an animal. Even a crab. For whatever reason, I get really grossed out and I end up eating only veggies for like the next 3 days. (This explains why my husband cooks more than I do.) Same thing with mushrooms. If it even REMOTELY resembles a fungus, I can’t eat it, even though I love the flavor of mushrooms. Am I a freak of nature?? (For that, I mean.)

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