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Jun 27, 2009 04:21 PM

Crab questions for north americans

In the UK, none of us lives more than 70 miles from the sea but not all coastal parts of the country are known for its local seafood. The north east of England is one of the areas that is, and I'm just back from a week's holiday over that side of the country.

So, we're in a pub having lunch and my ears prick up on hearing a north american accent ordering crab sandwiches. I'm not sufficiently knowledgable to know whether this was a Canadian or US accent (and it may be relevent when you read on).

My ears prick up further when I hear the landlord explaining that the sandwich is served with the brown and white meat mixed together. "Why's he saying that", I think, "Of course it is".

My ears now go into overload in the pricking up department when I hear the accent saying "I didnt know crabs had brown meat".

So, my questions are:

1) Would north americans not mix the brown and white meat for sandwich? I suspect that this was not the first time the landlord had explained this to non-Europeans. Would there be a difference between Canadians and Americans?

2) Would the woman be unusual in not knowing that crabs even had brown meat, or does it just not feature in dishes?

3) What do folk do with the brown meat - something which I think is the more flavourful of the two sorts. Assuming it isnt just thrown away

And, as a finale to the story, the pub landlord asked the kitchen to send through a sample of of both the brown and white meats on bread for the visitor to try. She tried and didnt like the brown meat and said she wouldnt have been able to eat the sandwich.

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  1. I'm NA but near Canada, not a big fan of crab but this is the first time I've heard of brown meat. What part of the crab is the brown meat?

    2 Replies
    1. re: babette feasts

      I agree. When buying fresh crab meat here, the two choices seem to be Jumbo Lump or Back Fin, with Jumbo Lump being much more expensive.

      1. re: babette feasts

        Sometimes the less expensive claw meat of smaller crabs is called "brown meat" . We use blue claws, pinky toes and dungeness crabs here in the US for the most part, and the crab claw meat in all three is not as special as the lump or back fin. I'm not saying it isn't wonderful, but the best meat in all three is found in the crab's torso. It is whiter and sometimes a little better in texture.

      2. I think this is a matter of nomenclature. It would seem that in the UK, claws are considered
        "brown meat" least this UK link indicates as such.

        1 Reply
        1. re: penthouse pup

          I think it's actually meat from the body, per this on the site you link (part of no. 6 in the instructions) - I assume out is meant to read "outer":

          "The brown meat and the red roe (if present) is usually found in the upper part of the out shell. Use a spoon to scoop out and keep separate from the white meat."

        2. As a north American living in Maryland which is arguably the home of the crab cake sandwich I will tell you this:

          "Brown meat" most likely refers to claw meat as opposed to the meat from the body of the crab. Where I come from crab cakes, which are what "crab sandwiches" are made from, unless we are talking soft shells (that is another show), consist of meat from the body of the crab which is white. Jumbo lump, which comes from the cavities where the swimmer legs are located at the back of the crab on both sides, is the most prized. Crab cakes made only from jumbo lump are what Marylanders seek out and rightly rave about. Backfin lump or just lump is body meat other than jumbo lump and is equally good but not quite the same thing as biting into a huge, cohesive piece of jumbo. Claw meat, which is of a darker color, is considered filler when we are talking about crab cakes. Claw meat is good but a crab cake sandwich made from a mixture of lump and claw meat would not be as good as the real jumbo lump ideal.

          I see claw meat mixed into cold crab cocktail or hot crab dip and in tomato-based crab soup and mixed into the "stuff" of crab-stuffed dishes or used as cocktail claws which are the claw portion with most of the pincer portion of claw shell removed leaving the claw meat exposed and a small base of shell left to hold onto when dipping into various sauces. I agree that it is more flavored than body crab meat but it has a less dense texture which detracts from it being used in certain dishes like crab cakes. Trust me, it is not thrown away.

          12 Replies
          1. re: CDouglas

            Same here in South Mississippi with our blue crabs. Of course claws get well-used here - marinated, deep fried, and used in gumbos to name a few.

            1. re: CDouglas

              I agree with your definition of brown meat. I've spent a lot of beach time in Maryland.

              1. re: CDouglas

                I've never been really sure that "Crab cakes made only from jumbo lump are what Marylanders seek out and rightly rave about."

                I'm not a Chesapeake Bay region native so I can view this with an objective eye, but I've had a house in a waterman's village on the Eastern Shore for a long time. I've been trying to learn about traditional Chesapeake Bay foods.
                The locals, many of whom worked in the long-shuttered picking houses, use the meat from the entire crab, not just the lump, for their most excellent crab cakes. Some of my elderly neighbors are well into their 80s and we have a few in their 90s.

                Crab cakes were traditionally "fisherman's food." The waterman and their wives who worked in the picking houses, made do with what was left after they sent the most profitable stuff, i.e. the lump, off to the brokers. Now they use whole crab, usually minus the claw meat for the best damned crab cakes you'll ever taste.

                Perhaps city folks and younger people think that fancy dancy all-lump crab cakes in upscale restaurants are the be all/end all, but that is NOT the traditional crab cake of the Chesapeake.
                Like most of the best food in the world, it originated with hard working people using what they had to make the best damned simple dinner on Earth.

                1. re: MakingSense

                  This, btw, rings true to this New Englander: people did not waste edible food if they could help it. Now, it's true there are tales of how people in coastal New England complained about a surfeit of lobsters and that lobsters were typically prisoner fare, but still, I am always suspicious of any purported folk food tradition that involves wasting edible food.

                  1. re: MakingSense

                    When I pick them myself I use all of the body meat to make crab cakes at home which is the way I have had them since I was a kid. When I am set to drop $17 for a single crab cake at a restaurant I am looking for 100% jumbo lump.

                    1. re: MakingSense

                      Looking back on this I am curious as to who you are calling "city folk"? Me? I would also like to know why their opinion would be less informed or valued than someone with a house on the Eastern Shore.

                      You were the first to put up the straw man of "traditional" crab cakes in order to make an argument. We can agree that opinions vary but taste is up to the individual, no?

                      1. re: CDouglas

                        The concept of a traditional crab cake is not a rhetorical device, i.e. a straw man, for the sake of argument.
                        What is served in most upscale restaurants today, particularly away from the East and Gulf Coasts, isn't the same as the classic workingman's crab cakes.
                        There are uses of scrap meats and seafoods by the working class in down home cooking in many cuisines, and the traditional crab cake seems to have been one of these.
                        They appeared in bars, places like Faidley's, crab houses, and plain restaurants, long before they started showing up in upscale places a few decades ago. Until then, fine dining establishments used expensive crabmeat for more elaborate and elegant dishes. This was true not only in the Chesapeake region but all over the Mid-Atlantic and in the Gulf Coast area.

                        As I said, the professional pickers made higher profit on the lump and backfin which they sold to brokers, and used the rest for humble meals.
                        Older home recipes, before crabmeat was widely sold by the pound, often started with the direction, "pick the meat from a dozen crabs..." and certainly did not say "throw away everything but the lump."
                        Of course restaurant presentations are different and diners want the best for their money. Consequently, most now use lump or jumbo lump.
                        Many homestyle cooks and ordinary restaurants choose "whole crab" and that is where "taste is up to the individual" but it may also be because of tradition. I think that there are historical grounds for that point of view, based on old cookbooks, menus, oral histories, and anecdotal evidence.

                        Perhaps "city folks" didn't adequately convey my meaning. If someone's experience with crab cakes (for whatever reason) has been limited to those made with premium lump or backfin, and they have never given any thought to the origins of the dish, they might also never think that a "traditional" crab cake might be different from what they now see in restaurants.
                        My having spent a great deal of time in a watermen's village on the Eastern Shore gave me the opportunity to learn things that I never would have known, and meet people I never would have met in the city. The more I learned, the more fond I became of the traditional crab cakes, even though I like the fancy ones too. Who wouldn't like a pile of prime lump crabmeat?

                        1. re: MakingSense

                          "Consequently, most now use lump or jumbo lump"

                          That's true although nation wide the VAST majority are not using true blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus) at all but rather the imported "blue swimmers" (Portunuspelagicus) which are an entirely different beast no matter how they slick up the marketing. Even claw meat from domestic blue crab has far, far more flavor. It's no longer as simple as just comparing jumbo lump to claw with out noting that. I'd venture a guess there will be many who read this thread that have had crab cakes several times and unknowingly have never ever had true domestic "Blue" crab.
                          Numerous MD restaurants are using the imported crap now including Phillips.
                          Professional pickers and "profits" are not two things that have gone together very well in my experience. Most of the pickers I have seen have been very poor ethnic families and many times they are elderly women.

                          1. re: Fritter

                            You are sooooo correct about the use of that Asian blue swimming crab. If you want the real thing - American Blue Crab - check the label to see if it comes from a US East or Gulf Coast packing house and it will be in a plastic tub - not in a sealed can. Expect to pay a premium as well because it is highly perishable.

                            It is shocking to see the imported crab in stores in the heart of the Chesapeake. It is likely used in most restaurants to keep costs down. Large numbers of the US pickers are now immigrant workers who come on special seasonal visas, and even with their relatively low wages, Blue Crab meat is expensive. How many diners are willing to pay what a crab cake would cost using the real local product?

                            There are few of the locals who still work as pickers. The old packing houses have largely closed. As more restaurants and home cooks use the import, the yield from the Bay declines, and the price rises, I guess we'll see less and less of the true local Blue Crab except at the very high end where diners are willing to pay for it.

                            1. re: MakingSense

                              All true and it sure makes me sad the way things have changed. There's nothing like a bunch of fresh cooked crabs dumped on a table cloth of brown paper and few cold ones.

                  2. "England and America are two countries divided by a common language." - G. B. Shaw

                    Not sure what you mean by "brown meat," but I'm willing to give this a whirl.
                    I grew up on the Gulf Coast and now live near the Chesapeake Bay - both prime territory for the Blue Crab, which looks much like the crab in the instructions posted by PenthousePup. Most crabs look pretty much alike.
                    I just finished eating crabs for supper so my memory is fresh and I've been eating them my entire life.

                    When you remove the upper hard shell, there is often some soft brown matter that clings to the inside of that hard upper shell and/or the part that you remove that contains the "white meat." It is the beginning of a new shell for the crab when it eventually outgrows and sheds the current one. It actually tastes pretty good but most Americans throw it away.
                    This brown stuff would never be included by crab pickers in commercially packed crabmeat as it would be considered unacceptable to US consumers, as would the yellow fat in the crab shell, often referred to as "mustard." Most people also throw this out unless they sit next to me at a crab feast and then I eat it.
                    The bright orange roe inside female crabs is usually discarded by Americans except for those who value it for "she crab" soup.
                    Most people prefer male crabs (jimmies) to females (sooks) anyway so you don't see many females at crab houses.
                    Commercially packed crabmeat in American seafood markets is white, pure white. They never include anything but white meat.

                    The meat from Blue Crab claws, which is brown, is available in markets and is less desirable and less costly. It is sometimes very salty because it mechanically extracted.
                    Some people like claw meat for crab cakes. This is a personal preference and is more prevalent among "old timers" in the Chesapeake Bay area and Gulf Coast areas.
                    Stone crab claws are white. So are other NA varieties.

                    The highest grade of crabmeat is jumbo lump and it is pure white. It is the meat from the "swimmer" fin and is extracted on one single piece.
                    If that lump breaks, it is called "backfin," and sells for less money, simply because the single piece broke. It is from the same "swimmer" fin.
                    The next grade is basically "whole crab" but it would be only white meat, never including the brown claw meat. It is the meat that remains when the pickers extract the lump crab for which they can get the highest profit margin.
                    They generally sell this grade as "blended," adding just enough of the broken lumps from the swimmer fins to make it look good. This grade is an excellent value for most cooking uses. It would be close to cooking and picking your own crabs.
                    There is a grade to which they add no pieces of lump at all. It's the least expensive of the white crabmeat varieties.
                    There is an Asian crab marketed now in the US as a substitute for Blue Crab and it is also white.
                    We are just a White Crab Meat Country.

                    I have eaten other types of crabs in other countries (continents) which had darker meat that also had a different texture.
                    I think Americans probably use either Blue Crab, or some of the other NA crabs, as the benchmark for crabmeat. All of the crab marketed in the US, as far as I have seen, is white.
                    It may have been unacceptable to the American tourist in your local pub because it did not meet her expectations of "crabmeat."
                    You may not like our all-white varieties if you like a more robust flavor.

                    12 Replies
                    1. re: MakingSense

                      North America has three coasts -- four if you count Alaska.

                      From Alaska you get giant crabs - king crabs and their ilk. Let's leave these out of the discussion.

                      The American/Canadian you were talking about may have come from the West Coast. If so, the crab she is accustomed to is the Dungeness crab. They run about two lbs. each and the meat from the claws, legs, and body is all white. When the crabs are cleaned, there's some brownish-green gunk that gets washed away from the body cavity and no one would even think of trying to eat it.

                      I am not familiar with crabs from other coastlines, so am at a loss to imagine brown crabmeat.

                      By the way, on the West Coast, a crab sandwich consists of crab salad on (preferably) sourdough French.

                      1. re: Sharuf

                        I don't know how different crabs might be in different parts of the world. To me, crab is crab. Most of ours is fished on the east coast. A quick Google suggests that it's latin name is Cancer Pagurus, if that helps ( )

                        1. re: Harters

                          The fabled blue crab of the American Atlantic coast is Callinectes sapidus.

                          The Jonah crab that is common in the Gulf of Maine is Cancer borealis. And the peekytoe or rock crab of the East coast is Cancer irroratus.

                        2. re: Sharuf

                          keep in mind for non North Americans; the crabs vary by region in a big way;
                          Dungeness, yumm, northwest, are huge
                          blue claw, also yumm, east coast, are about hand sized
                          like the mahi mahi, yumm, is a flat round fish but categorized as dolphin, ugh, so it seemed like a pass until the surfer girl waitress in Florida told me it wasn't like flipper the porpoise
                          so, am curious, are the crabs different sizes in the UK?

                          1. re: foodlvrzen

                            I tend to buy my crab as "dressed crab" (as I suspect most of us do in the UK), rather than the whole beast, so I'm no expert. But I'd reckon that whole crabs seem to be about the same size when I see them on sale at the fishmongers. Checking online, they seem to weigh in at around 1 - 1.5kg.

                            1. re: foodlvrzen

                              Mahi Mahi is NOT "categorized as dolphin". Its common name is dophin-fish but it's not a mammal, it's a fish. Not sure where the common name came from.

                            2. re: Sharuf

                              < When the crabs are cleaned, there's some brownish-green gunk that gets washed away from the body cavity and no one would even think of trying to eat it. >

                              Sharuf, you are most incorrect!

                              In my neighborhood Vietnamese Cajun Crawfish restaurant, they would NEVER throw the "gunk" away. They flip the crab shell over to turn it into a bowl, and take a plastic spoons to scrape and mix the innards and eggs together to form a murky, pea-green mixture. Next, add a healthy squeeze of lime. I wish I didn't know how it was made because it is delicious. Crab soup!

                              1. re: Salty_Loves_Sweet

                                Ditto. I'm Chinese and none of my relatives would even think of throwing that stuff away. Heck, it's the best part! Give me the shell and a spoon and I'm in heaven.

                                1. re: Salty_Loves_Sweet

                                  i've grown up calling that mix Crab Mustard.

                                  1. re: Salty_Loves_Sweet

                                    I am Japanese American, Sansei. When I worked in a fish market we had Japanese Amnerican customers who would covet it and refer to it as "miso".

                                  2. re: Sharuf

                                    And Shauf, WADR, please do not be generalizing West Coast when you live on only a very small spot of it.

                                    1. re: Salty_Loves_Sweet

                                      I have lived in the Northwest and the Bay Area, so I've got dungeness country pretty well covered.

                                      I've never watched Asian home cooks in action, so their use of the parts we treat as discards is news to me.

                                2. Ahha.

                                  So, the woman was not at all unusual in not knowing about the brown meat and/or not liking it. Thanks for this interesting information.

                                  As Caitlin has discovered, brown meat is the soft meat from the body of the crab and is the most delicious part. Claw meat is, of course, part of the flaky white meat. In a "dressed crab" ( ), we'd keep the brown and white meats separate, presenting them in the main shell, but for a sandwich, the two are mixed together, perhaps with a little mayo if the brown meat hasnt provided sufficient "moistening" to the texture.

                                  10 Replies
                                  1. re: Harters

                                    I'm in the UK too... I suspect there are issues of differences in crab specie, also the brown meat is (I believe) more perishable than the white. I've never had, for example brown meat from spider crab - just from 'ordinary' crab.
                                    I far prefer the brown meat in flavour which is much stronger than that of white meat - though it's texture (sort of a wet puree) is not as nice as the white (slightly fibrous chunks).

                                    1. re: Harters

                                      I'm still wondering if what you are calling "brown meat" is the stuff we find in Blue Crabs (Callinectes sapidus) that are quite full and heavy. It is left in the top shell when you open them and is actually the material that will form the new shell of the crab when it molts. Sometimes it is even fairly solid and has begun to take the shape of a new shell.
                                      It tastes good and I eat it, but, as Peg says, it is stronger than the white meat. (I eat pretty much anything that holds still.)
                                      The description of "scraping it out with a spoon" leads me to believe this. If it were "muscle meat," it would be enclosed in the chambers of the shell and attached to the legs and swimmer fins.

                                      We don't get many crabs in crab houses with this because the waterman check the crabs in their traps for crabs that are about to molt. They can identify the "peelers" which they can sell individually to soft shell crab operations for a higher price than they get for hard shell crabs. The soft shell crab folks keep them in tanks until they shed and then get an even higher price for them as a delicacy - perhaps my very favorite food on earth.
                                      Other varieties of crab, like Dungeness, Snow, Stone, and King crabs, are not marketed as soft shell crabs. The "brown meat" wouldn't be seen in these varieties by consumers.
                                      Blue Crabs are easy to catch even by recreational crabbers. We did it as little kids. The other NA varieties are professionally caught in deep water as far as I know. Only the claws of Stone Crabs are harvested.
                                      Those who eat Blue Crabs fresh in the shell would be more likely to see this "brown meat" in the US if it is what I think it is. Especially if they are recreational crabbers.

                                      1. re: MakingSense

                                        I never realized you could eat this. I've caught zillions of crabs and I know what you're talking about as far as the "brown" meat. i don't crab as much since I got into fishing as prime crabbing and fishing occur at the same time, and I'd much rather catch a trout or redfish than crabs, although eating is a different story.

                                        1. re: MakingSense

                                          I would just emphasize that the brown "meat" you are referring to remains in the shell after you pop the top off the crab. We don't want any one confused and eating lung.
                                          Stone crabs are not caught in deep water and IIR there is a short recreational season as well. As you said though Stone crab claws are white and my favorite!
                                          I would think any one referring to dark meat in the US was talking about claw meat from a blue crab or heaven forbid that pasteurized crap from Indonesia.
                                          I have to wonder just how many refer to crab meat as "brown" in the UK since this link from up-thread is actually of a "brown" crab.
                                          Interesting stuff.


                                          1. re: Fritter

                                            "I have to wonder just how many refer to crab meat as "brown" in the UK since this link from up-thread is actually of a "brown" crab."

                                            Apologies if I misunderstand your point, but when British people refer to a crab's "brown meat", we mean the "brown meat" (to differentiate it from the "white meat"), not a "brown crab". We do not generally have different types of edible crab - a crab is a crab ( see my post upthread from 28/06).

                                            1. re: Harters

                                              I know it's Wikipedia but just for a pictorial reference is this the beast you are talking about? (top link)
                                              The middle link is the American blue Crab and lastly the imported pasteurized crab that we see so much of now.
                                              As per your initial questions the "brown meat" you are referring to is not mixed with white here and is discarded in crab commercially caught. The average N. American has not likely heard of "brown" meat in a crab and would be surprised to learn this (IMO).
                                              We do of course eat the "brown meat" in soft shell crabs so many here who have never heard of it have ate it unknowingly.
                                              Most here including recreational and commercial crab catchers would discard the "brown meat".
                                              One important aspect to consider in this is that our blue crabs are a fraction of the size of your brown crabs which in size appears far more similar to our dungeness.
                                              There are those here that consider the claw meat "brown" meat.
                                              It's also pretty rare that scallops are served with the roe in the US.




                                              1. re: Fritter

                                                Yes - as I indicated in the post of 28/6.

                                                However, when you refer to a "brown crab", I think you are confusing the URL that Wiki has given to that page with what it actually says on that page. It is not called a "brown crab" by anyone - not even Wiki. It 's a "crab" - sometimes we might call it a "Cromer crab" after the town in Norfolk where quite a number are landed (but that's not to differentiate it from any other sort of crab on sale). As I keep saying a crab is a crab - we do not have different types on sale.

                                                1. re: Harters

                                                  "It is not called a "brown crab" by anyone - not even Wiki. It 's a "crab"

                                                  Just a friendly FYI. Read the title of the Wiki link. IE "Brown_Crab"
                                                  Your question was about N. Americans. Here we have many types of crab available. You won't get far here by just saying "crab". Much of the conversation on this thread has turned to our Blue Crab which is far smaller than your "crab" and is not a deep water beast. Unless things are far different in the UK I suspect in other regions the same "crab" may have different names and thus most references list all of those common names. I have no trouble finding links to "brown" crabs including Wiki. But again I'll note that I stated the links were for a pictorial reference only.
                                                  IE; I wanted others to see the physical difference in the beasts we are talking about. Our blue crab and your brown or "cromer" crab are very different. The amount of "brown" meat other than the claws in our Blue Crabs is very small. ;-)


                                        2. re: Harters

                                          Ah, so the "brown meat" is the stuff we scrape out of the shell! A lot of Americans do discard this brown meat. As I posted above, more ethnic cuisines prize this part of the crab.

                                          1. re: Salty_Loves_Sweet

                                            I'm afraid, it is, S_L_T.

                                            The brown meat that we eat in Britain is, as other contributors have said, up in the main shell. Folk who throw this away are missing out on the most crabbiest part of the crab. Delish!