As a rod and line angler the majority of crabs I catch from the shore are spider crabs. Found in huge numbers just offshore during April to June when they migrate.
When I say catch, I mean they are entangled in the trace. Beach anglers frequently wind in only to find the hooks are missing from their rig, a sure sign of spider crabs.
Mainly exported to Europe, UK consumers don’t seem to like this spiny invader prefering to eat our native brown crab.
Cromer Brown Crab
The best known of the brown crab around the UK is probably from Cromer in Norfolk. Cromer crab is fragrant and tender with a high proportion of white to brown meat.
How to Cook and Dress a Crab
Having caught one, foraged for one, or even bought a live one it’s time to cook and dress it.
How to Dress a Crab
- If you’re cooking a live crab, first bring a large pot of well-salted water to the boil. (If using a ready-cooked fresh crab, proceed to the next step.) Add the crab to the pan and boil for 20-30 minutes. Remove from the water and stand on its nose to allow the water to drain away as the crab cools.
- To prepare the cooked, cooled crab, first remove the legs by twisting them off where they meet the body.
- Remove the claws by pulling them off from the body.
- Separate the crab body from the central part of the crab by placing the crab on its back (hard shell-side down). Put your hands under the edge of the crab and push upwards until you hear it break. You may need to use a heavy knife to help you lever the crab apart.
- Remove all ten of the spongy ‘dead men’s fingers’ and discard.
- Drain any excess water from the shell of the crab and remove the stomach sac and hard membranes inside the shell.
- Use a spoon to remove the brown meat from the shell and any soft shell that has formed. Place it into a clean bowl and mash with a fork.
- Press down on the edges of the crab shell, breaking away the outer edges to form a ‘dish’ for serving.
- Break each claw in half. Use the handle of a teaspoon to scrape the white meat out of the thick end of the claw. Place into a separate clean bowl.
- Use the back of a heavy-bladed knife to crack open the remaining piece of claw and the pincers. Remove all the white meat and flake into the bowl. Remove the piece of cartilage inside each of the claws, pick off the meat and discard the cartilage.
- To remove the meat from the body of the crab, take a sharp knife and cut the crab body in half then in half again. Pick out the meat using your fingers.
- If the legs are large enough, it’s worth picking the meat out of them. Snap them in half and discard the thin end of the leg. Using the back of a heavy-bladed knife, smash the shell on the thicker part of the leg. Pull the meat out and add to your bowl.
- Run your fingers through the white meat in the bowl to break up the meat and to pick out any remaining bits of shell.
- Return the prepared white and brown meat to separate halves of the prepared crab shell.
Top Tip: Get someone else to do the picking out of the crab meat, it can be a long job!
Now you have your cooked spider or brown crab its time to sit down and enjoy its delicate flavour.
Plain crab is delicious simply served with lemon, mayonnaise and brown bread. However, I like to serve crab au gratin or with Thermidor sauce.
Other Stuff You Might be Interested in …
Here are a couple of recipes for both brown and spider crab showing both styles of cooking.
Recipe – Brown Crab Thermidor
Thermidor sauce always sounds very posh, and for restaurant food, posh equals expensive. It’s odd how dishes or cooking styles with a French name command a higher price. For example, cheese on toast becomes pain au gratin and the price triples! Often served with a French style Thermidor sauce. This version is simple and quick.
Brown Crab Thermidor
- 200 g white crab meat
- 100 g brown crab meat
- 50 g pecorino cheese 50g
- 50 g mayonnaise
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 bunch chives
- 50 ml double cream
- 2 tbsp Calvados
- 1/2 tbsp Wholegrain Mustard
- 1 apple cut into fine shreds
- 1 handful basil
- Crusty bread
- Heat the grill. Mix the brown crab with the cheese, mayo, egg yolk, chives, cream, calvados and mustard.
- Carefully fold the white crab meat into the mixture and season well.
- Divide the mix between 4 individual, wide, shallow heat-proof dishes and put them under the grill until golden brown and bubbling.
- Serve with finely chopped apple and basil and serve with crusty bread.
Recipe – Spider Crab Gratin
Spider Crab Gratin
- 4 spider crab cooked and cooled
- 8 tbsp olive oil
- 2 leeks sliced
- 4 shallots finely chopped
- 3 celery sticks finely chopped
- 3 tbsp tomato purée
- 3 tsp fresh ginger chopped
- 4 tsp Dijon mustard
- 100 ml white wine
- 1 splash brandy
- 1 dash hot sauce
- 4 lemons zest only
- 4 tbsp fresh basil chopped
- 100 g almonds toasted and roughly chopped
- 100 g gruyère cheese
- 100 g parmesan cheese
- Pick the meat from the crab, including that from the legs, and place into a bowl. Clean the shell of the body and set aside.
- Preheat the grill to high.
- Heat the olive oil in a large pan over a medium-high heat. Add the leek, shallot and celery and fry for 2-3 minutes, or until softened but not coloured.
- Add the picked crabmeat, tomato purée, ginger and mustard to the pan and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent the mixture from catching.
- Add the white wine and brandy and simmer for a few minutes, or until the liquid has reduced.
- Remove the pan from the heat and stir in a dash of tobasco, the lemon zest and basil.
- Spoon the crabmeat mixture back into the reserved crab shell. Mix together the breadcrumbs and grated cheeses, then sprinkle the mixture over the filling. Place under the grill until the topping is golden-brown and bubbling. Serve immediately.
Please observe minimum size limits when fishing.
Use a measure like this one from Tronixpro.