Cracking and Cleaning Live Crab

Appears in

Chinese Technique

By Ken Hom

Published 1981

As soon as a crab (or any shellfish) is killed, it starts to lose flavor. To preserve the full freshness and taste, crab must be cut up just before cooking. Once you eat crab prepared this way, you will never want to go back to precooked crab. The texture and flavor are worlds apart. West Coast Dunge-ness crab, used here, is meatier and sweeter than the blue crabs caught in eastern waters. Their structures are identical, however, so the technique is the same for both. To keep from getting pinched, hold the crab from the back, or wear thick gloves. The cracked and cleaned crab pieces can be stir-fried or steamed. If you can’t imagine yourself cutting up a live crab, steam it for 5 minutes first, then cut it up as described here.
  1. Always hold the crab at the back to avoid the large pincers.

  2. Twist off the large pincers. Then break off the rest of the smaller legs. Scrub the shells clean under running water.

  3. Pull the large top shell off the crab in one piece. Set it aside.

  4. Pull off the feathery lungs and rinse the crab’s body clean under running water.

  5. On the bottom of the crab, find the “tail,” a piece of shell that is folded against the crab’s bottom. Pull this tail away from the body.

  6. Removing the tail exposes the inside of the crab. Rinse it out.

  7. In the large shell, near the mouth, there is a small dark sac. Remove it with a spoon, being careful not to break it. Don’t remove the yellowish-brown “crab butter” from the shell, which has a rich flavor.

  8. Cut the body into quarters.

  9. Crack the claws by tapping them with a cleaver, or by placing a cleaver on top of the claw and hitting the back of the cleaver with the heel of the hand.

  10. Cut the tops off the legs.

  11. Crack the legs one by one. Turn each leg so that the edge is up, enabling you to tap the shell with the side of a cleaver just hard enough to crack the shell, but not so hard as to crush the fragile meat.

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