Dungeness crab is a medium-sized crab found along the Pacific coast from the San Francisco bay area to Alaska. The sweet meat of the crab is relatively easy to extract from the claws, legs and the lower body where the legs are attached.
Dungeness crabs are most commonly sold steamed and then iced to preserve freshness. They are often eaten in exactly this form, with mayonaise, Louis dressing, cocktail sauce, or melted butter. The meat can also be used to make excellent chunky crab cakes with very little binder or filler.
Dungeness crabs also feature prominently at two of the West Coast's premier food-oriented tourist destinations, Pike Place Market in Seattle and Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco.
Large hardshelled crab, weighing 2-4 pounds, about 25% of that weight is meat.
Selecting and Buying
Both live and cooked crabs should seem weighty for their size when held.
The shell should be hard when pinched, a soft shell indicates a crab which has recently shed it's shell. The percentage of meat is much higher in harder shelled crabs.
Appearance of a cooked crab is important. They should have their legs tightly pulled up to the body, which indicates they were cooked when alive. Also, there should be no black discoloration where the leg joins the body, black discoloration at the joints means the crab was not cooked long enough, the meat will be mushy and soon become unpalatable.
Often a crab will throw off a leg if cooked when very lively and frightened, this is simply a defense mechanism by which they attempt to avoid attack by creating a diversion. A missing leg or two should not be used as a criteria for rejecting an otherwise good crab.
Once cooked the shell should be firm, with no flexiblity in the legs. The bigger the crab the better, since it makes all the meat easier to extract and there doesn't seem to be any toughness or negative attributes of larger crabs.
Preparation and Use
Crabs should be steamed or boiled live. They can also be pulled apart alive and then cooked immediate by frying, baking, or adding to soups and stews. Once cooked, the crab can be eaten hot or cold.
Add meat to a variety of dishes or eat simply with lemon and drawn butter.
Pull the soft gills off from the sides and scrape any butter (soft greenish grayish matter) from the center into the back. Rinse the body and legs under running water. Pull off all the legs and crack the body in half and then into quarters. Use kitchen shears or a mallet to crack the leg and claw shells to make for easier picking. You can serve as is or pick out all the meat in advance.
If you like the butter, you can eat straight from the crab or place in a sieve and push through to make smooth. The butter can be eaten on toast or added to soups and sauces for a rich crab flavor.
Conserving and Storing
Live crabs will store for about a day in the refrigerator, if in a plastic bag, make sure to create holes since crabs can breath air.
Once cooked, whole crabs can be frozen and picked later. Crab meat will store for 3-4 days if refrigerated.