Jonah crab, peekytoe crab, and sawagani

Other Names: Jonah crab: Atlantic Dungeness; cangrejo (Spanish); granciporro atlantico rosso (Italian); jonahkrabbe (German); kani (Japanese); sapateira boreal (Portuguese); tourteau-jona (French). Peekytoe crab: Bay crab; felsenkrabbe (German); granciporro atlantico giallo (Italian); jaiba de roca amarilla (Spanish); rock crab; sapateira de rocha (Portuguese); tourteau poinclos (French). Sawagani: Japanese river crab. Cancridae.

Left: Jonah crab. Top right: Jonah crab claws.
Bottom right: Peekytoe crabmeat

General Description: The Jonah crab (Cancer borealis_) was once discarded by lobstermen. In the 1990s, fishers found they could sell the crabs to processors, and it is now found on restaurant menus and at retail markets. Jonahs are close relatives of the peekytoe crab (_C. irroratus) and are often treated as the same in markets. However, Jonahs are
larger and have bigger claws and knuckles, which are the major source of their meat. The peekytoe crab was a throwaway byproduct of lobster fishing until a name change in 1997 from rock crab. The new name is credited to Rod Mitchell, owner of Browne Trading Company. Nowadays peekytoe crab is highly sought after. They are caught in waters 20 to 40 feet deep in traps baited with bits of fish. The meat is pink with a sweet, delicate flavor.

Sawagani crabs (Geothelphusa dehaani) are very tiny Japanese river crabs. They are eaten whole, shell and all. These freshwater crabs live in most parts of Japan in clear-water streams and average only 3/4 inch in diameter. Sawagani are usually eaten with sushi, but in Japan you can buy them in bags in roadside shops for munching on the go.

Locale and Season: Jonah crabs range from Nova Scotia to northern Florida but are most abundant from Georges Bank to North Carolina. Supplies are less in summer, when fishermen focus on lobsters. The peekytoe crab comes from Maine. Both types range from light to dark brownish red; the further north they’re caught, the darker their color. Sawagani are in season in summer and fall but are available frozen year-round.

Characteristics: Jonah and peekytoe crabs are oval-shaped with big, hard claws. They have reddish-orange shells and a white underside. The raw meat is translucent white; the cooked meat is white with brown-red highlights. It is flaky and sweet. Japanese river crabs weigh 1 to 1 1/2 ounces each and are sold in an 8-ounce bushel. They may be sold frozen.

How to Choose: Jonah crab claws and meat are sold already cooked and are often frozen. Break open a Jonah crab claw: If the meat sticks to shell, the claw wasn’t cooked or frozen at peak freshness. Peekytoe crabmeat is sold already picked and is of high quality.

Storage: Refrigerate Jonah and peekytoe crabs, covered by
damp towels, for up to 1 day. Refrigerate crabmeat in its container and covered with ice for up to 2 days. Defrost frozen crab claws overnight in the refrigerator.


Use peekytoe and Jonah crabmeat in salads, sauces,
seafood cocktails, crab cakes, and other dishes. Eat sawagami whole.

Suggested Recipe: Capellini with Peekytoe Crab, Asparagus, and Saffron (serves 4): Soak a large pinch of saffron in 1 cup white wine mixed with 2 tablespoon Pernod until golden. Sauté 2 cups bias-sliced asparagus and 1 cup
bias-sliced scallions in 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the saffron-wine mixture, 1 cup tomato sauce, and 1/2 cup clam broth to the pan and bring to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat, add 1 1/2 pounds peekytoe crabmeat, and heat gently. Meanwhile, boil 1 pound capellini pasta 2 to 3 minutes until al dente. Drain well and toss with the sauce.

Flavor Affinities: Asparagus, basil, brandy, butter, chervil, chives, cream, hot sauce, lemon, mayonnaise, olive oil, Pernod, scallion, shallot, tarragon, thyme, tomato, white wine.

from Quirk Books: