Oyster Crab

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

oyster crab Pinnotheres ostreum, and P. pisum, pea crab, are remarkably small crabs (about 1.5 cm/0.6" or less) which live out their lives inside the shells of oysters or mussels. The female just stays there, but the male sallies out in search of a female, gets into the same shell as the female, copulates, and expires.

The pea crab is not normally eaten, but the oyster crab used to be regarded as a delicacy in the USA. Davidson (1979) records the following:

The Washington Evening Star of 21 September 1900 stated that there had even been a proposal to call it the Washington crab, since the first President of the United States had liked it so well, and said that ‘we often see it floating upon the surface of an oyster stew’. It was usual to eat the little creatures whole, carapace and all, sautéed or deep-fried, with or without the oysters. They were also pickled. I am told, however, by a scientist at the Smithsonian that they ought to be eaten alive, that they provide a welcome change of texture between oysters, and that they taste a little like celery. Few books contain a recipe for the oyster crab. An exception is 300 Ways to Cook and Serve Shell Fish by H. Franklyn Hall, which was published at Philadelphia in 1901 and contains no fewer than sixteen.