Dungeness crab for Dummies

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “(Your Thing) for Dummies.”

I went to the coast last night for the annual crab feed at The Tides Wharf, Bodega Bay.

This is an all-you-can-eat event, so I did.  As I was cracking and picking my way through the salty wet shells I thought how lucky I was to be able to have the freshest most succulent crab in this abundance.  Then I thought: does even half the country know how to cook, clean and eat this stuff?

I grew up in a suburb northwest of Chicago.  We didn’t have crab feeds(that I was aware of, anyway).  Heck, it was exciting when we finally had a good selection of fresh produce in the market year round!

A few years back we had some friends from the midwest visit us and they rented a place in Bodega Bay for their weekend stay. We took them down to the harbor and selected some fresh crabs from the big holding tank at the end of the pier.  bodega bay big ships 002 They were placed in a paper bag for our journey back to the house.  I turned off the car radio so we could hear the scratching of the crabs as they moved about inside the paper bag.  It was a little unsettling but I, at least, knew how delectable these guys were going to be a few hours from now.

When cooking time came about I poured a glass of wine and sat at the counter, ready to instruct our visitors on the preparation, cooking and eating of these lively crabs.

1.  Get a really big pot and get some water boiling. Add some salt.  It has to be a big pot or your crabs might crawl out.

2. Grab your crab and place head first in the boiling water.  Yes, the crab is alive and yes, the claws will hurt you so you have to pick up the crab by it’s back shell.  Pick it up like you would a large softball.  My students in crab class did not want to physically touch the crab- they were dealing with emotional scars from knowing they were putting it into the boiling water while still alive.  I watched as they took two long-handled spoons and tried to leverage the crab out of the bag and across the kitchen into the pot.  It took a few attempts to get the spoons to grip the crab and the little sucker was clacking his claws against the spoons which nearly caused them to drop the crab in the middle of the floor.  If you are squeamish about touching the crabs, get some long-handled tongs.  They’ll be much more successful for transit from bag to pot!

3.  Once in the water, the crab will start to brighten in orange color.  Allow the crab to boil for approximately 15 minutes.

4. Using your long handled tongs, remove the crabs from the pot.  If you want to have hot crab, allow the crab to cool for a few minutes before heading to the next step.  If you want cold crab, clean them and set them in a tub of ice or into the refrigerator until you are ready to eat.

5. Cleaning and cracking the crab.  Really, it’s easy.  Do you remember the old soda cans with tab tops that came all the way off?  They were a rounded conical shape.  The crab has a pop-top on it’s underbelly.  Pull and remove. While still looking at the crab’s belly, grab the belly shell at the back of the crab and lift apart from the top shell.  You’ll see lots of gunk inside the crab and some people like to eat this stuff.  If you want to try it, be my guest.  I just toss it.  Run the crab under cold water to remove all the gunk then break the crab in half. Remove any reddish membrane that still remains and remove the spongy gills too. Your crab is ready to eat!  You can take a mallet and hit the pieces to give them a crack – or you can crack each piece as you go.  A simple nut cracker works best.

6. Enjoy your crab!  Crack and remove the shell from the meat.  The pointy end of the crab leg is a really useful pick to get at all the hidden sweet meat in the crab legs.  I eat mine plain but some people have drawn butter, mustard aioli or cocktail sauce.

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