Cooking Hard Shell Crabs
When you transfer your crabs from a basket to a cooking pot, make sure ALL the crabs are moving before you cook them. If a crab is not moving, toss it aside. NEVER cook and eat a dead crab. You will get very ill!
Use a pair of crab tongs or very heavy gloves to take the crabs from the basket and place them in your steamer. Cook for 20 minutes. The shell will turn a redish orange, however, the crab is not cooked until you see yellowish fat coming from inside the shell. It can be easily spotted.
Put about an inch of white vinegar into the bottom of your cook pot. Add the same amount of water; some use beer. Bring this to a boil.
While waiting for the liquid to boil, prepare the crabs. Place some live crabs into the top part of the cook pot, enough to cover the bottom. Season to taste. Many sprinkle Old Bay on top the crabs. Now add another layer and season. Continue until the crabs are all in the pot.
When the water is boiling, place the crabs on top of the boiling liquid and cover with a lid. If the pot is full, place a weight such a brick on the lid. Crabs will try to get out of the pot. About half way through the cooking process, check the level of liquid in the bottom of the pot. DO NOT LET IT BOIL OUT. The crabs will burn. Check your crabs after 20 minutes. They should be done.
When you remove the crabs from the pot you will notice that lots of the claws are missing and are in the bottom of the pot. Crabs fight to get out of the pot and tear the claws off. To prevent this, take an ice pick and insert it in the rear of the crab between the top and bottom halves of the shell. Move the ice pick towards the center of the crab. This kills the crab and prevents the fighting.
Cooking Soft Shell Crabs
Cooking soft shell crabs is different than cooking hard shell crabs. You MUST clean them FIRST before cooking.
Cut the crab across its face removing the eye sockets and the lower mouth. Then lift each side of the shell near the lateral spines and remove the gills (the fan shaped organ).
Finally, turn the crab over and cut away the apron. Just use scissors and cut around the outline of the apron. Pull it off and remove the internal organs. Now you are ready to cook. If you intend to freeze them, clean them first.
How to Eat Cooked Crabs
There are several types of crab meat available. Some of the terms you will hear are: jumbo lump – the best and most expensive crab meat. backfin – whole pieces of white meat; regular – small bits of meat from the body of the crab; special – a mixture of backfin and regular meat; claw – the brownish colored meat from claws; cocktail crab claws – large bitter claws with some of the shell removed.
As you will soon learn, crab shells are filled with pointed spots which will cut your hands if you are not careful. You will need a mallet; nutcracker; hammer or some object with which you will need to hit the hard outside shell, breaking it. Once broken you can pull the pieces off and get to the crab meat. You will also need a small knife to remove the meat. Many people just use their hands.
Cover a table with paper. If you use a good table, take a plastic trash bag; cut it open and cover the table with that first. Then place paper, newspaper works well, on top of the plastic. This will prevent liquid from staining the table top.
Two essential things you need are a mallet and a crab.
Start by pulling off the side legs and the claws. There may be some good white crab meat on the ends of the legs you remove. Hold a claw and strike it with the mallet. Do not smash it! Just hit it hard enough to break it. You can then pull the meat out of the shell and enjoy it.
Turn the body of the crab over and lift up the apron, bend it back and remove it (like the tab on a soda can). Once done, pry the top and bottom halves of the shell apart.
CLEANING: You will see a fairly disgusting mess in the center of the shell. These are the internal organs and are not eaten.
Scrape everything out, including the yellow matter. Many people believe the yellow matter, or mustard as it is called, is fat and eat it. This is the organ which removes impurities from the water and should not be eaten.
EATING: Once you have done all this, grasp the shell with both hands and break it in half. Turn the crab over to the side where the apron was and remove the outer shell. Right under this shell is where the real meat is.
Dig out as much meat as you can find. Once you are done, role the empty shells up in the paper and toss them out.
For soft shell crabs, what you see is what you can eat providing you have properly cleaned the soft shell crabs prior to cooking.