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Factors affecting dungeness crab flavor? [moved from San Francisco board]

I'm in no way well-versed in this topic but I've noticed that crab to crab, the flavor and texture can be quite noticeably different. Mostly richness/depth of flavor and texture (I'm referring to fresh, pre-cooked crab from grocery stores all presumably at the peak of the season and from the Bodega Bay region). I was wondering if anyone could better explain what's going on here and what could be affecting this? Brining, age, geography/diet, length of cooking, etc... Also if there's any possible way to "pick a good one" just from appearance at the store.

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  1. I don't think there's any way to judge the quality of crab unless it's alive.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      I would have to agree with this assessment. Unless you are eating at a restaurant where they will serve you great crab for a price. I long ago stopped buying cooked crab mainly because they are all too salty for my taste. Freshness and fattiness affect the flavor the most IMO. I try to control for this buy buying from reliable sources (from a boat if I can) and also the biggest crabs I can get. Generally speaking, the crab seems to get fattier as the season goes on (Jan/Feb), but this year the Nov crabs were surprisingly rich. As other posters recommend, asking when the crab was cooked is probably going to get you your best result. And buy a big one! BTW, Lucas Wharf (not the retail market, but the place next to where the boats unload) in Bodega Bay is one of my fave places to source crab.

      1. re: rubadubgdub

        Curious. Why does the water get salted?

          1. re: rubadubgdub

            I think D-crab with butter and lemon juice is all the flavor I need. But thanks for answering.

    2. Not that hard to cook them yourself, if you don't get squeamish. Main trick is not to overcook, just like any seafood.

      Lots of boiling water. If they are alive and kicking when you buy them and you cook them within a few hours and keep them cold, they will be great. Best to get them from the boat so you don't have to worry about what's in the water in the storage tank. When they have been kept cold for a bit in the fridge or on ice, they are very lethargic and easy to dump into the hot water.

      Enjoyed a couple last night. I commit a big sin by NorCal standards by putting some Louisiana crab boil spices in the pot. Doesn't hurt.

      1. One of the big factors that effects taste is freshness: Both how soon after the crab was caught was is cooked and how soon after it was cooked is it available for you to eat it. Fresh is always better. When I buy pre-cooked crab I always ask what day the shipment is coming in and when the crabs were cooked and only purchase very freshly caught and prepared crab. The best thing to do as Robert sais is to buy live crabs but this requires more work. I haven’t purchased cooked crabs too recently and the last time was from the Berkeley Bowl and they were pretty decent. Saw them there this weekend but did not purchase any because my partner is not the biggest fan. When you chose them ask about when they were caught and cooked and also ask to smell them. Look out for off, ammoniated or overly strong fishy or funky aromas.

        1. I think I'm more squeamish about the "Predator" like interior of the crab than the idea of boiling a live one. In any case I'd love to be boiling live ones myself but it's just usually not that viable of a plan for where I live.

          Have y'all noticed a difference though between that buttery salty rich flavor and more flaky texture compared to the more stringy chewy sweet flavor? Do you think this is still a freshness issue?

          And I'll begin sniffing my crabs from now on! (har har...no but seriously)

          1 Reply
          1. re: humblenommer

            That's the difference I notice, sweet vs not. I'm still trying to determine if it's a freshness issue since I've cooked crabs that were lively and kicking, but still not as sweet as I've had. I'm starting to think the water in tanks at the store are a big factor.

          2. There probably is some variation in taste dependent on where the crabs were caught and how long they have been in captivity. Humblenommer-by predator like interior, do you mean the green stuff? That’s my favorite part of the crab.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Ridge

              I believe it's the gills of the crab that look like those frilly things that hang off the Predator (the fictional character). The first time I cracked and cleaned a crab myself I got pretty squeamish. Do you prep the green stuff with other ingredients? I've usually found it a little too bitter.

              1. re: humblenommer

                The gills do look scary. I mix the green stuff with a good dose of lemon juice and a touch of olive oil. The lemon masks the bitterness. My significant other, otherwise an extremely adventurous eater, is grossed out by it.