I have to say, cooking live crabs wasn't something I was looking forward to. The lobster experience a few years ago, where the tails of the poor creatures were whacking against the lid of the pot, creeped me out for a very long time.
Fresh from the tank at ABC Seafood.
But having had some fresh-cooked crabs at a friend's home convinced me it might be worth a few potential psychic scars, so I headed off to ABC Seafood on SE Powell to buy crabs for a crab feed that evening. The cool thing about ABC is that they sell a ton of seafood every day, so it doesn't sit around long in the large, bubbling tanks. And their prices are at or below what you'll find at other markets in town.
Into the pot they go.
One way to tell that the crabs are fresh is that when they're fished out of the tank, they're flailing and grabbing, not limp and listless, and these babies were fighting like all get out. I carried out my seven big beauties to the car, listening to them burble and clack all the way home, even through the several layers of paper and plastic bags that encased them. (Yes, it did make me shiver a bit to think of them in there trying to figure out what the heck was going on.)
Cooling their heels in the sink.
I'd been advised to stow them in the fridge until it was time to do the deed, letting the cold slow them down so they wouldn't be flailing when they went into the pot. By the time the guests arrived, I had three big pots of heavily salted water (sites advise about a tablespoon per quart) on the stove. The crabs had quieted enough to grab them by the back of the shell (their large front claws were banded shut) and slide them, upside-down, into the boiling water. Thankfully there was no flailing or clawing to get out, so a recreation of the lobster scene from Annie Hall was averted.
Now this is a feed!
Once the water had returned to a boil, the pots were covered and the crabs simmered for 15 minutes while drinks were served. When the time was up, the shells had turned that signature bright red and we fished them out with tongs and put them in the sink to cool. At this point they could have been rinsed and refrigerated or frozen for future use, but putting them in the sink until they're cool enough to handle and then clean allows the meat to stay warm for serving. (Instructions on how to clean a crab.)
The table had been covered with newspapers and strewn with nutcrackers and picks, butter had been warmed, Dave's bread had been sliced and my friend Kathryn had made her fabulous Caesar salad. The crab parts were divided into two large bowls and we all got to work on the sweet, succulent meat until, as my sister-in-law said, her arms were too tired to crack any more. I'd say that's a good definition of a successful crab feed.
For seriously great crab recipes, from cakes to chowders to pasta dishes, see the previous posts in the series: 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.