King crab, snow crab, and european crabs

Other Names: King crab: Crabe royal (French); kurzschwanz-krebs (German); tarabagani (Japanese). Lithodidae. Snow crab: Eismerkrabbe (German); queen crab (Canada); spider crab; tanner crab; zuwaigani (Japanese). Majidae. Common crab: Buey (Spanish); chancre (Channel Islands); cromer crab (Great Britain); dormeur, tourteau (French); granchio (Italian); green
crab; pavurya (Turkish); siderokávouras (Greek). Crancridae. Shore crab: Cangrejo e mar (Spanish); crabe vert, crabe enragé (French); strandkrabbe
(German); mouro (Portuguese). Portunidae.

General Description: The king crab (Paralithodes camtschaticus_) is the largest commercially harvested crab, with a spiny shell and long, spidery legs. Most crabs have 10 legs, but king crabs have 6 walking legs, one larger crusher
claw, and one smaller pincher claw. They often march in herds across vast expanses of underwater plains. Shell color varies according to the origin of the crab, with red the most common color, but there are also blue (P. platupys_) and brown or golden (Lithodes aequspina). The southern king crab (L. antarcticus
) is nearly identical to the king crab but found in the Southern Hemisphere.

Three species of snow crab are harvested in the cold waters of North America, all in the spider crab family. Bairdii (Chionoecetes bairdi_) are the largest, averaging 5 pounds, found in the Pacific. Tanners (C. tanneri_) are slightly larger with longer, skinnier legs, found in the Atlantic. Opilios (C. opilio) are smaller, about 1 pound, and are sometimes sold as queen crabs. Opilios are most important commercially and the only species caught in both the Atlantic and the Pacific.
Snow crabs are taken in traps from sandy bottoms. They are smaller and more brown than king crabs. Although king crab and snow crab are only distantly related, they are often confused.

The large common crab (Cancer pagurus_) is one of the most popular crabs in Europe, found in the Mediterranean, the North Atlantic, and the North Sea. It is a robust crab with a reddish-brown oval shell, a rippled edge, and black on the tips of its claws. The shore crab (_Carcinus maenas) has a green shell with yellow spots and is most popular in the
British Isles and Scandinavia.

Locale and Season: King crabs are found in shallow waters off the shores of Southeast Asia and in the Bering Sea. Live king crabs are available September through December. Frozen king crabs are available year-round, but the greatest supply and lowest prices are in November. Peak season for opilio snow crab is January to March. Bairdi snow crab is in season in November. Large common crabs are found in the eastern Atlantic and throughout the Mediterranean.

Characteristics: King crabs grow up to 6 feet and weigh up to 10 pounds. Red king crab is in highest demand because of its large size. The spiky shell of the cooked crab leg is brilliant red, and the cooked meat is bright white with a scarlet membrane. The best meat is the merus, from the upper part of the walking legs and marketed as “fancy.” The body meat is flakier than the leg meat. Snow crabs have longer, thinner legs than king crabs. When cooked, its shell is reddish-brown and browner at the shoulder. The meat ranges from snow white to reddish-brown and is sold cooked. It is sweet and delicate, though a bit fibrous. The shoulder has tender, long fibers; the claw meat is firmer. The common crab may weigh up to 6 pounds and has rather fibrous meat from its claws. Its flavor is moderately strong and redolent of the sea.

How to Choose: Almost all king crab in the United States has been cooked and frozen in brine. If processed correctly, the meat should not taste salty. King crab is sweet, moist,
and rich. As snow crab ages, it shows black patches, barnacles, and mottling on the shell. This does not affect quality, but these crabs are likely to be meatier, because they haven’t molted.

Left: King crab leg. Right: Snow crab claw

Storage: Store frozen crab legs in the freezer and do not prethaw, or they will become watery and lose their juices.
Flavor is best just after thawing; use immediately.


Add to soups and stews in the last 5 minutes of cooking or steam fresh or frozen until just heated through, about 5 minutes. Serve hot or cold, in chunks, flaked, or shredded, or brush with melted butter, season, and serve with cocktail or other cold sauce. Do not overcook.

Suggested Recipe: Broiled Alaskan King Crab (serves 2): Cut 1 pound split king crab legs into 2- to 3-inch sections. Combine 1/4 cup melted butter with 1 tablespoon Old Bay or
other seafood seasoning mix, the grated zest of 1 lemon, 2 tablespoons each grated onion and chopped parsley, and 1 tablespoon chopped tarragon, and brush over crab. Place the crab legs shell-side down on a broiler pan and broil about 5 minutes, brushing occasionally with sauce, or until sizzling hot.

Flavor Affinities: Bell pepper, butter, celery, cocktail sauce, dill, mayonnaise, mushroom, Old Bay seasoning, onion, parsley, scallion, shallot, tarragon, tomato, white wine.

from Quirk Books: www.quirkbooks.com