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Feb 24, 2009 09:20 AM

Dungeness crab question


We bought a couple dungeness crab last week on Thursday from San Francisco Fish Co (in the Ferry Bldg). Each was a little over 2 lbs, and we steamed them for around 15 minutes or so.

Both crabs had the same problem. While steaming, several of the legs mysteriously fell off; the crab hadn't been moved at all, and the water was a gentle simmer. The weird thing is that they did not fall off at the joint: the legs just sheared cleanly slightly below the joint with the body. It's almost as if they didn't have enough calcium in their shells or something to stay together while being steamed.

I should add that the crab tasted a little funny, and not only that, the yield was extremely poor (due in part, I'm sure, to the fact that some meat leaked out while steaming).

Any thoughts on what happened? And how I can make sure this doesn't happen again in the future?

(BTW, when we put them in the pot they were definitely alive and moving.)


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  1. I think you cooked them at too low of a temperature "gentle simmer".

    The crabs were of adequate size, "each was a little over 2 lbs", crabs with soft shells will rarely be over 2 lbs.

    The crabs were alive, but died a slow death, dead crabs will drop their legs when being cooked.

    Taste and yield issue may have been due to under cooked crab.

    Next time, bring 2-3 gallons (enough to cover crabs with 4-6" of water) of water to a roiling boil, add ~1 cup of salt, add crabs, bring back to a boil, then cook for ~15-18 minutes.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Alan408

      My Filipino friends steam crab, but they do make sure the water under the steamer is at a good boil.

      1. re: janetms383

        That's interesting; this whole time I thought I've been steaming them at low temp, but I wonder if actually the water was at a stronger boil than I thought the times that it worked.

        I'm going to give the strong boil a try next time I get them.

        1. re: rj2008

          Meat doesn't leak out of the shells either. You potentially saw some protein coagulation but you don't lose meat into thin air.

          1. re: HaagenDazs


            Can you explain a bit more? My prior guess was that raw crab meat is a little bit "liquid", and so when limbs break off, the stuff you see in the water is the meat that oozed out afterwards. It sounds like I'm wrong about this...

            1. re: rj2008

              Yes and no... the meat isn't liquid, but it isn't exactly like stew beef either! The cracks/breaks/holes in the shell will allow some protein to seep or leach out of the cracks and coaglate but you're not losing any significant mass. It isn't meat there floating in the water if that's what you're asking. Have you ever poached chicken breasts and see that white, coagulated stuff float on top or near the meat itself? Same deal, different animal.
              Raw crab meat is more like a soft silken tofu more than it is liquid.