Crustacean Nation III: Feeling Crabby

The Food Gallery

GUEST: Crab Wrangler

    Good evening and welcome once again to the food gallery. Tonight we detour down a dark alley, where feast meats phobia in a pantry with a pulse. Here you'll find such vital victuals as the oyster. Locked in this briny vault is a dish best served cold and wide awake. Or perhaps you'd savor a bit or Roquefort--a cheese whose flavor is as lively as the eponymous mold within. And who could pass up that pesky provision, the most animated of edibles the crab .... Hey where's my crab?

AB: [in a panic] Lights! Get the crab wrangler in here would you? [low voice] How do you lose a crab in a place like this? Just one stinkin' crab. I don't ...
CREWMAN #1: Crab Wrangler.
CRAB WRANGLER: [runs in]
AB: We've got a situation.
CW: He's gone!
AB: Yes he's gone. Can you find him?
CW: You don't find crabs like that. They find you.
AB: What do you mean crabs like that?
CW: Well you know blue crabs. They're ornery.
AB: Ornery huh? Well, okay. Just do your best, okay?
CW: All right people watch your fingers and toes this is not a drill.

    Maybe we don't nee live crabs? After all, properly handled frozen crab's almost as good as fresh and of course there's several varieties of canned and fresh packed crabmeat. Besides, unless you can drive to the beach in the time it takes to watch a Bay Watch rerun you'll probably live your whole life without seeing a live crab at the Megamart. Of course the last time I cooked something live on camera, whew, it was a PR nightmare.

CW: [walking around] Here crabby crabby crabby. Here crabby.

    And isn't a crab cooked fresh from the sea better than one that's been stacked on a thousand of his closest friends in some aquarium for the last month? No in the end, I'd say, a cooked crab in the hand is worth two live ones in the bush.

CW: Actually they're more likely to be found in a potted plant.
AB: Why don't you go check there?

    As I was saying crab, alive or dead, are good eats.

The Kitchen

    Crabs have been scuttling along floors of the worlds silent seas for some 200 million years and during that time they have diversified into over 400 distinct species many of which lurk off of U.S. waters. Of course what kind of crab ends up on your plate is greatly a function of where you end up on the planet. For instance if ... Oh, excuse me. [goes to stand on a large map of the USA]

    If you happen into the northeast you're likely to happen upon a sand crab or two hiding amongst the lobsters. Now chefs didn't show these crabs much respect until some marketing guru somewhere decided to re-christen them peekytoes. Well if my name was peekytoe I'd hide around the lobsters too.

Sand Crab

    Now the more common east coast crab also has a fancy moniker, at least in Latin. The Callinectes sapidus, or beautiful swimmer, is better known by the name blue crab, and they proliferate prodigiously from the coast of Maryland all the way down to Florida.

Blue Crab

    Now Floridians generally prefer stone crabs which have the good or bad fortune from mid-October to mid-May of having one huge claw lopped off before being tossed back in the drink to grow another. Sounds like fun. Well, they are delicious.

Stone Crab

    Now moving over to the west coast we meet up with the blue crab specific doppelganger the Dungeness crab which when paired with a little sourdough and a nice white wine is the true San Francisco treat.

Dungeness Crab

    Now moving up to the frigid waters of Alaska we find the snow crab and that deep diving decapod, the king crab, which at six feet across looks as much like a monster as anything you'd ever hope to see.

Snow Crab
King Crab

CW: [walks in with king crab puppet]
AB: What is that?
CW: It's a king crab.
AB: No, it's a puppet, a handmade puppet!
CW: Well you can only get them live in Alaska.
AB: Go on. Thank you. Thank you very much.

    As experts will tell you, odds are very good you're never going to see one of these outside of Alaska which is why you usually find them ...

Whole Foods Market: Atlanta, GA – 12:11pm

    ... frozen. Given their less than convenient size and shape, and the location of the fisheries, most snow and king crabs are cooked dismantled and flash frozen as soon as they get to the processing plant, which is usually on the boat that caught them. Now I know that a lot of really great grocery stores will have what looks like fresh crab legs in the fresh fish case but , I'd be willing to bet a leg and a leg that they came in the back door cooked frozen already. And it'd be a pretty safe bet because if the shell is red you know that it's already been cooked.

Red = Cooked

    Now I don't have a problem with this give the fact that crab is extremely perishable. If I wanted to cook crab legs tonight I would buy the freshly thawed item. But if I planned on holding them just even 24 hours, I would want to buy them frozen and do the thawing myself.

Once thawed, cooked crab should be consumed within 24 hours.

The Kitchen

    Thaw your legs overnight in the refrigerator, and keep in mind, up to 20 percent of the frozen weight is water, so you're going to want to make sure you give that moisture some place to go.

Thaw overnight in refrigerator

    Remember this contraption from one of our other seafood-oriented programs? Two plastic containers, equal in dignity, size, and shape, only this one [the top one] is poked full of holes so the moisture can drain away from the investment into the waiting vessel below. They're kept separated by a cunningly placed foil snake.


Foil Snake


    Now you can keep food illness and cross contamination away by keeping this lidded.

According to Greek mythology, Hercules was
attacked by a giant crab during his labors.

The Kitchen

    The thing to remember about frozen crab is that it has already been cooked, okay? Cooking it again is only going to toughen and dry the meat, which thanks to short muscle fibers and a low fat content has already been stretched about as far as it can go. So if you want hot legs--and, hey, who doesn't--you need to think re-heat, not re-cook. And no it is not as simple as you think because if it was all reheated foods would taste great and it doesn't. So, let's consider the technology.
    Boiling, this is only going to get us to waterlog city. Besides being far too violent for a reheat of this nature, water is a solvent. It's just going to wash all of our armored, friend's flavor away.
    [opens the oven door, CW is in background looking for the missing crab] Baking's no good either. By the time the meat would heat through it would be dirt dry. Broiling and grilling would be okay but you risk burning the shell, which would taint the meats flavor.
    This leaves us with steaming which is fast, easy, and a real flavor saver when it comes to cooking crustaceans. [opens the drawer to pull a utensil out and the missing crab is hiding in a bowl]
    There we go. [puts steaming basket in pot, adds crab legs, they don't fit] Hmm, that would be a problem. Luckily there's more than one way to steam a crab. [camera pans to hanging pot with the missing crab inside]
    There's nothing wrong with employing a microwave in the pursuit of serious culinary goals as long as you don't ask it to do things it can't do. Now let's review how this thing actually works. When you activate your microwave oven, a device called a magnetron tube generates waves of electromagnetic energy. Now these kind of waves are produced anytime electricity moves through a circuit or even a simple wire, but what makes a magnetron tube special is that it creates oscillating waves, which then can be directed at a target. Now in a microwave oven these waves are fed down a long tube and they bounce off a metal fan and are scattered into the cooking chamber. Once in the chamber if they encounter food or anything besides metal for that matter, they move into that substance and if there are any asymmetrical molecules there the microwaves make them vibrate and that creates heat.
    The most common asymmetrical molecule in crab legs, or anything for that matter, is water. Now when these little molecules of water start to do the tango they create heat very, very quickly. The problem is, is that microwaves really can't produce heat in excess of the boiling point so they can't brown foods the way the oven or grill or broiler can. But they are really good at making steam. So let's look at the fastest way to get maximum heat into your legs in the minimum amount of time. But before that, let's take out a little fingerprint insurance.

    [voice over] Cutting the three legs into six sections is going to make them a lot easier to handle and they'll cook a lot quicker. Adding a few sprigs of dill will bring flavor and aroma to the party. Just wrap them up in two layers of wet paper towels and then wrap that in a nice thick layer of plastic wrap. In the microwave for two minutes on high to bring out the steamy goodness.

3 Legs Cut 
Fresh Dill
Damp Paper Towel
Plastic Wrap

Cook on high for two minutes.

    Now within moments, the microwaves will start converting the water in the paper towels to steam. But instead of just floating off in the box uselessly, the plastic wrap will hold that steam right up against the crab legs, a very efficient way to cook and very fast. But we need to keep the mass down so that the cooking process doesn't take too long. That's why I never do more than about three legs at a time. The rest you can just pouch up and have standing by on deck. As long as you don't unwrap them, they'll stay warm and you can serve them all together.
    Now is a very, very good time to think about a sauce. Now I'm not much for fancy, shmancy sauces that would just walk all over the flavor of our very, very expensive shellfish. I like to just use ghee. What's ghee? Well, think of it as a clarified butter only 'whey' better.

    [voice over] 'Whey' better. That's a dairy joke. Never mind. Melt one pound of unsalted butter over low heat. As soon as it liquefies, turn the heat up to medium. When it finishes foaming, turn up the heat a little bit more and wait for it to foam a second time. When that foam is finished you'll see little brown bits on the bottom. Those are the burnt milk solids. Just strain off the ghee and you're good to go. [AB pulls the crab meat out of one leg, dips it in the ghee and eats]

    You know they might call these things king crabs cause they're so gosh darn big. Then again they might call them king crabs because of how they make you feel when you're eatin' them. Excuse me. This could get messy. [the missing crab is sighted behind AB on the ledge]

The Japanese spider crab can measure up
to 26 feet when it's legs are fully extended.

Whole Foods Market

    For those of you unfamiliar with this critter, allow me to introduce the Dungeness crab. Now named after a spit on the Olympic peninsula, Dungeness, or dungies, pretty much rule the pacific-coast market, which thanks to several overlapping regional seasons, is pretty much year-round. Now like my friend here, most dungies are cooked as soon as they come onto the dock, which helps preserve their fresh flavor.
    Now dungies are about 25 percent edible, which is pretty good for a crab. Now when buying, watch out for shell breaks or punctures, which are bad. And if you've got a choice, go for one that feels really heavy for its size. Lightweights have generally molted recently, so they've got less meat. Oh, you want to look out, also, for dangling legs. It usually means they were dead when they were cooked.
    Now most markets will crack and clean your crabs for you, but it's always good to know the basics, especially if you want to reserve some of the shell for either presentation purposes or making crab stock.

Crabs have a 360° field of vision and see twice as well as humans.

The Kitchen

    If the idea of dismantling a deep-sea beetle in order to extract the succulent meat that lies within its shell gives you the heebie-jeebies, well, maybe you out to step away for a few minutes. You know, go log on to and download some crab recipes. The rest of us are going to play Crustacean Quincy.
    Of course, we're going to need tools, lots of tools! Okay, maybe not lots, but at least a few. I like to have a flathead screwdriver around, a pair of tweezers--don't have to be that big, but if you've got 'em, why not--and this little item I love. I picked this up at the hardware store. [in a wicked voice a la a movie ???] Is it safe? [normal voice] You remember ... never mind. Oh, and it's also a really good idea to have a big mallet.

    Step one, flip the crab on its back. You see by the size and shape of this apron, that this is a boy crab, which makes sense, because girl Dungenesses are illegal to harvest. We're just gonna crack that off. Did I mention the two bowls? One for the good stuff, one for the nasty stuff. Now I do this the rest of the way over the sink because there's a good bit of moisture in here. Now we reach right in that little hole, and we're gonna pry off the back, or carapace, of the crab. Right away I'm gonna rinse off all the stuff on the inside. Right now nothing in here looks like good eats, but give us a minute. Now look around in here and you'll see a lot of these little gray finger things. Those are the gills and they're also called 'dead man's fingers' or 'dead men's fingers.' They pop right off.



    Twist off all of the legs. And they come off really easily.
    There's big pockets of meat on either side of this. It'll be a lot easier to get to if we just pop it in half like that.
    All of these little cells are like honeycombs full of meat, and the real skill is to get in and get that meat out, because it is the best meat in the crab. I'm going to just get in there and scrape out each one of those little cells.
    Now, the legs. By the way, don't worry about this part of the leg. [the very last joint of two] There's nothing in there worth bothering with. Just go for this section. [the larger section] Literally, you get it cracked, and you can just scoop the meat out with your thumb. At this point, we could break out some mayonnaise--preferably "good eats" homemade mayonnaise--chop up some sweet pickles, and make ourselves some crab-salad sammiches. Or we could do something just a hair more sophisticated.

    For instance, if we were to take a cup of olive oil -- extra-virgin or not, it doesn't really matter -- a cup of red-wine vinegar, two cloves of garlic, minced fine, half a cup of fresh parsley, chopped, a quarter cup of tarragon. Yes, fresh! A teaspoon and a half of kosher salt, and a half a teaspoon of black pepper. Now we need to combine this somehow. [gets out stick blender and blends in the zip lock bag] Ah, there we go. 1 Cup Olive Oil
1 Cup Red Wine Vinegar
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
½ Cup Fresh Parsley, Chopped
¼ Cup Fresh Tarragon
1 ½ tsp Kosher Salt 
½ tsp Black Pepper
    And then add the meat from two Dungeness crabs. Did I say two? Ah, excuse me, two. [mallet pounds out another crab off screen] There we go. And mix, and then just seal up the bag, try to run out as much air as possible, and straight to the refrigerator. Meat from 2 Dungeness Crabs
    [voice over] Let the crabmeat soak for about four hours. You could go as many as eight if you'd like, and be sure to put that bag in some kind of container just in case there's a little leakage.

Turn every 4 hours.

    [voice over] I've got plenty of service options to consider. My favorite, simply scooping out that salad onto some field greens and serve it with a side of lemon slices.

    [tastes] Mmm. Zesty as a splash of old spice only good!
    Blue crabs account for more than half of the total U.S. Crab harvest a year. That's some 200 million pounds of shell-crunching goodness. But, there is a catch.

CW: [nets AB's crab on the plate]
AB: You know, I don't think that one poses us any real danger right now.
CW: Just playin' it safe, boss.
AB: Great. Well, why don't you go play it safe somewhere out in the street!

    Sorry. The problem is, is that this [whole shelled crab only] equals this [small portion of meat]. That's right, a cooked blue crab only yields about 15 percent of its weight as edible meat. That's an awful lot of work for not very much good eats. It is really, really good eats, though. Now a true professional picker can blaze through one of these guys in about 40 seconds. Me? Uh, I do maybe four minutes on a good day, which is why I always leave the pickin' to the pros.
    Freshly cooked and picked blue crab comes in several market varieties, all pasteurized to extend shelf life and all requiring refrigeration. Now unfortunately, the name game is unregulated, so one fishmonger's jumbo is another fishmonger's lump, imperial, or colossal. In any case, these are all words to represent the biggest pieces of white meat culled from the body. This is as good and as expensive as it gets. Which is why I often cut it with backfin meat, a.k.a. Regular or special crabmeat, which comes from the body but is composed of smaller pieces than the lump. Then there is flake, which is made of the tiniest, teensy pieces of meat left over from the body after the backfin and lump have been removed.
    Then there is claw meat which I don't really like because it's dark-brown, kinda tough. I think of it as crab jerky. You could use it as filler, I guess.
    Or you could use krab with a "K." Why is it called krab with a "k"? Because it's not crab with a "C." It's surimi, processed fish paste, which has been flavored, colored, and shaped to pass, kind of, like crab. If your recipe calls for a lot of other ingredients, you could use this in a pinch. [going for the joke] Pinch ... crab ... oh, never mind!

Referring to certain tumors with spidery arms, the word
“cancer” comes from karkinos, the Greek word for crab.

The Kitchen

    Let's play a little word-association game, okay? I'll say a word and you say the first thing that pops into your mind. Okay? Crab ... cakes, of course! I mean, who doesn't love crab cakes? But you know, the problem is, is all too often they're kind of overpowered with fillers like bacon and onions or they're smashed flat by overzealous, I don't know, hamburger cooks! Personally, I prefer crab fritters because they're all about highlighting the investment, the texture and the flavor of crab! Now crab cakes are usually pan fried, but fritters are always deep-fried and the reason is because, well, it's faster, which is good because we're still essentially reheating. We don't want to do it too long.

    Now I've got two and a half quarts of canola oil in this heavy pot, and I'm heating it to 375 degrees over medium heat. How do I know, 375? Because I've got a thermometer here. And because I'm frying, I always have a lid standing by just in case something bad happens, but it won't.

2 ½ qt. Canola Oil 
375° Over Medium Heat

    Also, I have a draining rig standing by. I like to put newspaper on the bottom for easy cleanup. So while this happens, we contemplate the mixture.

[AB mixes the ingredients in a bowl] 1 Cup Lump Crabmeat 
1 Cup Special Crabmeat
½ Cup Mayonnaise
Juice of ½ Lemon
½ tsp. Black Pepper, Freshly
[pulls a scoop from his drawer, scoops the crab meat mixture and places onto bread crumbs to coat] Scoop with a 1 oz. (number 24) ice cream scoop and roll in 1 ½ cups panko bread crumbs.
[places the crab balls into the oil and then removes them using a spider onto the rack]

Fry in 375° oil for 5-7 mins.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Crewman #2

    We hope tonight has opened your eyes to the notion that crab need not be alive and kicking to be top-notch cuisine. Whether flash-frozen or pasteurized and packed, crab is definitely worth the investment of time and money. They are, in fact ...

CW: Hey, he's over here! He's over here! [pans to CW holding crab which has a video cable between his claws]
CREWMAN #2: Hey, watch out, he's got the video cable!
AB: Don't worry, he wouldn't dare. I haven't had a chance to say...

[TV static]

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Transcribed by: Mario Garcia

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010