Dungeness crab gets its name from the town of Dungeness, Washington. The Dungeness crab is the sweetest crab, yet not as sweet as lobster. It is not as large as king crab or snow crab, but is larger than soft-shell or rock crabs. They reproduce during the summer and stay in cold water which is why they are only harvested during the winter in the San Francisco Bay area. It is also my favorite food on the planet. Here is the process that I go through to pick and eat this delightful crustacean.
The crabs you find at grocery stores have already been boiled which gives them a nice pink color. Live crabs have more of a brown coloring. Should you be interested in catching your own then you need a crab pot and a ruler to measure the crabs you catch. You have to throw back any that don't meet the minimum width requirements for harvesting which is 6 1/4" across the widest part of the shell, just behind the point on each side. And you can only keep the male crabs, which have a narrower piece of triangle shell on their underside. By not allowing the females to be harvested the Dungeness crab fisheries have been able to sustain themselves far better than most seafood.
If you've caught your own crabs then you want to boil some water with salt in it and then throw the crabs in until they stop moving and completely turn pink, about 15 to 20 minutes. Some recipes call for slicing the crab in half, cleaning it out, and then cooking it. You never want to cook a crab that is not moving or has been dead for some time.
When picking crabs at the store you want the largest ones possible as they will have the highest ratio of meat to shell. Make sure that the crab has its front claws and the leg immediately behind it as they have the most meat in them. The small back legs have very little meat and it is harder to get out.
A lot of seafood departments will clean your crabs out for you. The Whole Foods near me will even make a preliminary crack in every leg for you. Instead of waiting around for them to do it, I usually just take the crabs home and clean them myself. It only takes about a minute or two per crab. First take the triangle-shaped shell off of the bottom of the crab and then take the top shell off. Next take off the gills which are the rows of spongy white things on the two sides of the crabs, located above the legs. Then scoop all of the "crab butter" which is the yellow gunk on the inside of the crab. Crack the crab in two and rinse out anything left over that is not meat. Here are some illustrations of the process and here is the process in pictures.
To get the meat out of the crab you need to crack the shell. Tools for cracking nuts are quite apt at cracking crabs as well. If you don't have those available then you should be able to crack most of the crab with your hands with the exception of the claw which you might have to crack on the table or with your, hopefully strong, teeth. Be careful when cracking with your hands else you are likely to cut your fingers up pretty badly.
As good as Dungeness crab tastes on its own, it is even better dipped in a butter sauce. Here is the recipe that I use for two people.
- Four cloves of garlic minced
- One stick of butter
- ½ tablespoon salt (sea salt is preferable)
- Juice from one half of a lemon
- ¼ cup beer (optional)
Stick the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic to the pan once the butter melts down. Let that simmer for a couple minutes while stirring frequently. Add the salt, lemon, and beer and let it cook for another couple minutes. Pour into a couple of bowls and serve with your crab.
Remember that recipes are merely guidelines. If you love garlic as much as I do then you're probably going to want to stick in another clove or two. I also usually add more salt than this.
You can get fresh Dungeness crab throughout the winter and previously frozen crabs year round. That means that you can use it in whenever you have a recipe that calls for crab. Here are some Dungeness crab recipes from the Food Network. Hopefully eating Dungeness crab will give you a reason to love winter.