Dungeness Crab: Everything You Need to Know

Dungeness Crab: Everything You Need to Know

Cold water invertebrates, Dungeness Crab are Pacific Delicacies that thrive in the waters off British Columbia. Their pleasurable taste excites chefs all over the world and inspires many award winning culinary dishes. Dungeness Crab awakens the inner chef of many consumers. Learning to identify fresh products, cooking tips, and  harvesting and shipping techniques, everyone can have the opportunity to try Dungeness Crab.

Crab Facts: The Nitty-Gritty

Cancer magister, the Latin name recognized by The Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS), is often associated with the astrological June zodiac sign, “cancer”. While the “cancer” zodiac sign does depict a crab, not many people are unaware that it is the Dungeness Crab. WoRMS, or the World Register of Marine Species, recognizes the Latin name; Metacarcinus magister

The carapace, or hard outer shell, tends to have an array of colors ranging from yellow-brown to plum purple. Along with four pairs of walking legs, the Dungeness Crab also has a pair of claws. A combination of serrated teeth and dramatically pronounced hooks at the tips, the claws are unique to the species. Moulting happens to the hard outer shell of the crab as it grows. Swelling with water, a soft shell fills to 15-25% larger than the cast off shell. Size of the crab determines how often they moult. Over the course of a year, smaller crabs tend to molt more often. After sexual maturity is reached, larger crabs molt annually to biannually. After a crab moult, it required two months or more for the shell to harden. 

Interestingly, only during the soft-shell (moulted) phase, a female crab can be bred. Despite only mating once, during the soft-shell phase) a female produces multiple batches of fertilized eggs. These additional batches of fertilized eggs is possible because the female crab is able to store sperm from the initial mating. Since female crabs have the ability to produce more than one batch of eggs, during harvest season, only male crabs are harvested with a minimum size limit to the collection. 

Harvest

During harvest for Dungeness Crabs, two things must be remembered. The first is that female crabs must be released. Only male crabs can be kept after harvest. The second thing to remember is the size of the male crab. Male crabs must be at least 6.5 inches (165 mm) in width. The Lower Mainland, in general, supports crabbing season all year long. Some restrictions in regards to dates and times are listed by certain locations. Before recreational crabbing, identifying the location’s rules and regulations should be done ahead of time. 

Even with the crab season open all year, crab fishermen find more success during late summer to early fall. This time is during the crab’s mating season, making them more active and abundant. Weather in the Lower Mainland also tends to be more enjoyable during those times. It is important to remember that commercial crab operations will also be active during those times too and then can lead to less crabs in those locations. 

Preparing to Cook

Dungeness Crab is renowned for the sweet, buttery taste that can rival King Crab. In addition to its flavour, the Dungeness Crab can be shipped live with good results. So when it comes to picking the crab, there are some key things to look for. If you are lucky enough to be able to shop seaside or at your local grocery store, fresh Dungeness Crab is always best. Feisty and active crabs are the healthiest. As you reach into the tank to pick yours out, the fastest one is your pick. Since some consumers don't have the ease of getting fresh crabs locally, there are good options for live shipped crab and frozen crab. Identifying a reputable sourced market is easily attained online. No matter how you received your live crab preparing and cleaning is a big step.

Cleaning Fresh Crab

When it comes to Dungeness Crab, boiling or steaming needs to be done first before the crab is cleaned. Steaming allows for more flavours of the crab to surface but boiling is more common. 

  • To Boil
    • Salt the water to the taste of the ocean; add spices/herbs to taste; add crab; simmer 10-15 minutes
  • To Steam
    • Salt an inch of water at the bottom of large pot; use steamer basket; cover pot until crab is cooked through; 15-20 minutes

After either of these methods, remove crab from the pot and allow to cool. The steps involved in cleaning a Dungeness Crab can be visually seen in the following list, here. Steps include removing the apron; removing the carapace; removing gills and mandibles; and the final step is rinsing the crab clean. 

Storing and Freezing

Like many species of seafood, Dungeness Crab is best enjoyed fresh. Enjoying it fresh is not the only way. Freezing fresh crab is also a way to preserve the taste if not eaten right away. If the crab was bought locally, immediately put the crab on ice to preserve its freshness. After filling a large bag with ice and inserting the crab, place additional ice in the bag so that all of the crab is covered. Placing the bag in the refrigerator allows the crab to be eaten within four days. 

Freezing crab requires the crab to be cooked before placing in the freezer. Once the crab is cooked and cooled, double bagging the crab in freezer safe bags will protect it from freezer burn. After placed in the freezer, thawing and reheating the crab should be done within four months. 

In either situation, it is important to know that crab should not smell fishy. If the crab has a fishy smell, it is a good indication that the crab’s taste will be less than satisfactory. 


Recipes: Your Time to Shine

There is something satisfying when you are able to eat something fresh. For those consumers who have the opportunity to recreationally catch their own Dungeness Crabs, the act of catching, cleaning, and cooking their catch is often very fulfilling. A certain respect for the food and those who made it emerges, making the overall act more enjoyable. 

As I have begun to learn, cooking and baking are almost magical. As it boils down to science and chemistry, the act of cooking can be as easy or challenging as needed. There are thousands of recipes on the internet, in magazines, and on the television. Many people can copy a recipe (myself not included) and come out with a similar result as what the picture shows. The fun and magic begins when people add their own zing to their food. Use your tastebuds and explore the word of culinary wonders. The magazine Sunsetcooking as well as great suggested recipes

Opening Your Sails (The Takeaway)

Dungeness Crab is a pacific delicacy that excites the taste buds with sweet and buttery taste and texture. As with many sustainable favourites, Dungeness Crab is delectable when harvested and cooked fresh. Freezing is suitable as well when consumed within four months. Fresh ingredients such as the Dungeness Crab awakes the culinary chef in all of us. Try something new, try it with friends, or on your own. The culinary prodigy is within you, waiting.