For seafood lovers, Dungeness crab is all anyone could ask in a tasty crustacean. They're large and flavorful, sustainably harvested, and typically lower in cost than either Alaskan king crab or Maryland blue crab. Like other crab species, they deteriorate rapidly once harvested, so they're sold frozen through most of the country. The frozen crab is almost invariably precooked, so cooking is a simple process of gently reheating the sweet, ready-to-eat flesh.
The Virtues of Frozen
Pulling a package of cooked crab from your supermarket's frozen section lacks the romance of buying it fresh, but it's definitely the pragmatic option. Crabs die rapidly once they're out of the water, and deteriorate just as rapidly once they're dead. By steaming and flash-freezing the crabs, either right on the fishing boat or at a packing plant as soon as they're landed, the processor can preserve the crab's delicately fresh flavor for months. Once thawed, the sweet crab flesh can be eaten cold or gently reheated as the centerpiece of your meal.
Steaming and Boiling
The most traditional way to cook crab in coastal regions is simply to steam it or boil it, keeping the focus on the crab's own flavor. Steaming portioned, thawed crabs takes five to eight minutes, while whole crabs can take 10 minutes or longer, depending on their size. Boiling is slightly quicker, with thawed leg clusters or half-crabs typically requiring five to seven minutes. Individual legs or claws take a minute or two less, and whole crabs take a minute or two more. Boiling offers the option of seasoning the water heavily, either with sea salt or a "crab boil" seasoning mix, to complement the crabs' natural flavor.
Grill and Go
Grilling the crabs on your barbecue is a less common alternative -- but a good one. The shells retain steam as the meat heats, cooking the meat gently within the protective surroundings. The shells themselves become slightly charred from the intense heat of the grill, adding a distinctive flavor to the flesh inside. Grill thawed crab legs or clusters for four to five minutes per side, over moderately high heat, then serve them immediately.
Cooking From Frozen
Although you'll get the most consistent and reliable results by thawing your crabs, it isn't entirely necessary. You can steam or boil your crabs or crab legs right from the freezer -- just increase the cooking time by two to three minutes. To test whether they're done, snap a leg and sample a portion of the meat. If it's hot and juicy all the way through, they're done.
- On Cooking: A Textbook of Culinary Fundamentals; Sarah Labensky et al
- Professional Cooking; Wayne Gisslen
- Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images