There are more than 4000 species crab, a crustacean notable for its sideways walk, claws and armoured shell. Crab claws yield sweet, dense white meat similar to lobster meat, while the flesh from under the hard upper shell is soft, rich and brown. Crab liver is considered a delicacy. Male crabs tend to have larger claws and more white meat. However, the females sometimes contain coral - a flavoursome red roe. The main types of crab available are:
European Brown crab - popular all over Europe, this crab is available all year round. It reaches 20-25cm/8-10in across and has heavy front claws with almost-black pincers, a rusty-red or brown shell, and red hairy legs mottled with white.
Atlantic Blue crab - this crab has a blue-brown shell and can grow to 20cm/8in, but is usually sold smaller. When newly 'moulted' (crabs regularly shed their hard shells), the crabs are caught with soft-shells and deep-fried for eating whole. The Blue crab is popular along the Eastern seaboard of the United States.
Dungeness crab - this can reach up to 20cm/8in and has plenty of delicious white, dense sweet meat. The meat in the shell, notably different for its pale greyish-green colour, also has a great flavour. It is popular along the Pacific seaboard of the United States
Spider crabs - popular in France and Spain, this sweet-flavoured crab has no large claws and, indeed, resembles a big spider.
Fresh crabs should feel heavy for their size. You can buy a crab live and boil it yourself; alternatively, ask your fishmonger to kill it for you, or buy it ready-cooked. If buying cooked crabmeat, it’s much easier to buy it already out of its shell. Hand-picked crabmeat consistently has the best flavour. Cooked crabmeat can be bought in cans too, but the flavour is not as good as that of fresh crabmeat.
Crabmeat is just as good eaten hot as it is cold. It is great in salads, soups or soufflés and goes well with cream, butter, lemon and chilli. Canned crabmeat is useful for adding to pasta or making quick crabcakes.
Article by CJ Jackson