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Jan 20, 2009 08:44 PM

tips for cooking live crab

I tried to cook live crab for the first time today and it was incredibly traumatizing. I bought two crabs, realized both of them were too big to both fit in my largest pot. Then, one of them got feisty and tried to run away and I had a hard time getting him back in the bag so I could stick him in the fridge. He was making clicking noises & freaking me out!

By the end of it all, I was too traumatized to eat any of it. I kept expecting one of them to move. Any tips for a sqeamish newbie? I've watched my parents cook crab, so I didn't think it would be this awful.

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  1. Hmmm, obviously a bigger pot would be good.
    Try putting the crabs into the freezer for awhile. I don't know how long, since I haven't done this, but assuming 15-25 minutes or so. Its said that they 'go to sleep', but I think they go hypothermic (or the crustacean equivalent), and will then 'go quietly'.
    You don't want to freeze them, just long enough to get them super lethargic.

    Don't worry, after a few times you'll become a pro!

    1 Reply
    1. re: porker

      Thanks! I'll definitely try that, hopefully I will work up the nerve to do it again.

    2. You didn't say, but leaving them in the refrigerator for a while will make them lethargic and less active when you try to put them in the pot.

      2 Replies
      1. re: monku

        They weren't moving around much in the bag, so I thought I could get them into the pot...I was wrong :/

        1. re: bgirl180

          You didn't say what kind of crab it was. On the west coast we have Dungeness crab which can be up to a four pounds. He was probably more scared than you were and you gave him enough slack to get out of hand.

          Yeah, when you come home from the market with them, leave them in the refrigerator till you're ready to cook them, they'll last a couple days in there alive.

      2. The freezer and fridge suggestions are good ones. Frankly, other than that, you're just going to have to get over it if you want to cook crab for yourself. That and get a bigger pot... As monku mentioned I can only assume that these were Dungeness crabs if they were so big you couldn't fit them into anything. They are live creatures and they will act as such.

        The clicking noises you heard are them "breathing." Long story short, they use the water that is in their bodies to blow bubbles and then they breathe the air within those bubbles. That's why you sometimes see crabs with a bit of foam near their faces/mouths. Completely normal.

        1. As one who grew up crabbing and getting bit often and spent a couple summers lobstering and having to pull the nasty MFers out the traps, I throw them in the pot, listen to them thrash and heave and I dance around the kitchen twirling and chanting die, slimy MFers, die! Crabs (and lobsters too) are vile, brutish, bottom feeders w/out feelings. Have no remorse. Throw them in the pot w/ glee and enjoy America's other white meat without feelings of guilt!
          Please don't turn me in to the PETA, police.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Passadumkeg

            I have this great image of a large burly guy jumping around a tiny kitchen cursing at crustaceans and wielding a large knife, and it makes me giggle...

            My mother makes really delicious spicy crab in black bean sauce, which requires crab pieces. She normally buys frozen crab, but when she came to visit me in the fall, I decided it might be a nice treat to buy some live Dungeness crabs for this dish. I was a little worried because we left the crabs out on the plastic bag all day, and the crabs became more and more lethargic and still. I thought we had killed them, and lost the advantage of buying them live. It turns out, mum did this on purpose so she wouldn't have to deal with them live.

            When she went to wash the crabs, they woke up and started moving. I hear shrieks and screams from the kitchen, and went running in. She had managed to get all of them in the sink, where they were crawling around, really pissed off. Mum and I looked at each other in despair, thinking, well what about going to McDonald's? Fortunately, it turns out that Dad is a calm, lethal killer, and he dispatched the crabs with alarming velocity, chopping the crab into appropriate sized pieces as Mum and I pointed and gave instruction while hiding behind him.

            The crab was delicious, and there is no question that fresh live crab makes a huge difference in taste. We relished every piece of that crab. But later on , my mother confided to me that although the crab was delicious, frozen crab might be good enough.

            I'd have to say that this was a traumatic experience for mum and I, and I don't think it would have been any better had we let the crabs fall asleep in the freezer. I think they would have still become active when we started chopping them into bits. I think if you are going to use raw crab, you have to just suck it up and understand that to eat these things, you have to kill them first. In some ways, this is more honest than just buying the crabs dead and frozen, at least this way you have to own up to your deeds. But I agree this is tough for us wimpy urbanites who have never had to slaughter our own food. So next time, I'll try to find my inner warrior and do a Passadumkeg dance as I prepare my meal.

          2. I always dump them in the sink and run hot tap water on the mouth and they just stop moving. I do this for both Dungeness and blue crabs. Just did it on Monday with Dungeness crabs. Stirfry with ginger, scallion and a little brown sugar and it was delicious!